To understand what pride really is, we should begin with what it’s not.
Pride is not an event or a parade. It’s not a month or an organization, a program or a spectacle, a costume or a celebration. When we talk about pride, too often do we default to Pride with a capital P. However, these global festivals and tourism drivers historically exclude the very populations who made them possible—namely, Black and transgender revolutionaries who put their voices and bodies on the frontlines of the queer rights movement.
What all LGBTQ+ people and their allies must remember is that, at its core, pride is resistance. It is a feeling that spreads roots on the individual level before it can ever be experienced as a community. It is a profound sense of self-love that, for many LGBTQ+ people, can be difficult to find and even more difficult to keep hold of. And until that liberation is available to queer people of all backgrounds and identities, there is little reason to celebrate.
In New Orleans, we are lucky to be welcomed by a culture that is both formed and advanced by the leadership of marginalized populations. There is still work to be done, but in these next pages, you’ll meet seven LGBTQ+ leaders who are using their time, talent and resources to ensure the safety and equity of our city’s queer community.
It would be impossible to represent the entire spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities in one magazine, and we do not seek to do so. Instead, New Orleans Magazine’s inaugural pride issue is an examination of the many ways our identities shape our personal and professional lives—and the remarkable results born at the intersection of the two.
This is pride as defined by those who live and experience it every day, and it is only the beginning.
Leader. Innovator. Survivor. Activist. She is all those things, but most significantly, Mariah Moore is an agent of change, and she has quickly become one of the most influential figures in working towards equity and protection for the transgender community in New Orleans.
“I made a commitment: to always leave my community better than I found it,” Moore said. “Being a survivor of anti-trans violence, I had to choose whether to live in fear or live fearlessly. I chose to use my experiences to empower and educate, to change hearts and minds.”
Moore’s is a mission that requires tireless work, and she has risen to the challenge on both the local and national scales. She is an organizer for Transgender Law Center, serves on Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s LGBTQ Task Force, was recognized by “The Root” as one of 2020’s most influential African Americans, and alongside local activist Milan Sherry, co-founded House of Tulip, a non-profit that provides zero-barrier housing to trans and gender-nonconforming people.
Even then, Moore knew she had to take her leadership to the next level, and in March 2021, announced her candidacy for New Orleans City Council District D. If elected, Moore plans to “revitalize and restimulate” communities that have suffered from disparities in funding, housing and public services, with a focus on reinvesting in local youth.
“While there are still disruptions in the form of violence and repressive legislation, it’s by the work of so many marginalized people before us that we are further than we once were,” Moore said. “Because of them, I am determined to pave a path forward and create stability for future generations.”
House of Tulip
The U.S. Transgender Survey reports that 32% of transgender Louisianians, or one in three, have experienced homelessness or housing discrimination in their lifetimes. Because homelessness can lead to further barriers in education, employment, food and healthcare, House of Tulip’s housing solutions can lead to long-term security for trans and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) people.
The House of Tulip Founders Circle fundraised more than $400,000 to purchase a five-bedroom property in New Orleans, creating a permanent investment in affordable and accessible housing and establishing a support system for TGNC individuals navigating the path to homeownership. While currently donation-driven, the organization plans to secure sustainable sources of revenue and to advance its strategic investment in the community.
Learn more at houseoftulip.org
What makes a message inclusive? It’s a question that has been embedded in Dustin Woehrmann’s work for years, and with his marketing agency, Communify, it’s one he’s helping companies, brands and entire cities address in their own storytelling.
“Figuring out how the work I do can make a community stronger is a big part of my drive,” Woehrmann said. Perhaps the biggest testament to that philosophy is his partnership with New Orleans & Company, a local tourism non-profit, Woehrmann and Communify have helped with LGBTQ+ marketing and outreach for years.
“There’s no blanket solution for diversity; one campaign will not appeal to people of every race, sexual orientation, gender identity or ability status,” he said. “Inclusive marketing means going much further than a social media post during Black History Month or slapping a rainbow over your logo in June. It requires thinking about what pain points you’re trying to solve for a certain community.”
Woehrmann points to MasterCard as an example of inclusive marketing done right: the company recently changed its policies to allow transgender and nonbinary customers to use their chosen names on credit cards.
Tapping into the varied needs of diverse demographics can be challenging, but Woehrmann takes pride in finding creative ways to generate authentic messaging that leads to real-world change. Apart from his business, he has worked extensively with organizations like The Trevor Project, Outfest, AIDS Project Los Angeles and the Gulf South LGBT Chamber, where he and other board members are fostering a more robust business climate for LGBTQ+ and allied entrepreneurs.
“Our people and our culture are changing,” Woehrmann said. “And any companies or brands who aren’t thinking about inclusive messaging will eventually get left behind.”
It turns out that inclusive marketing isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s effective. Global strategy and consulting firm Kearney reports that despite LGBTQ+ individuals only making up approximately 4.5% of the country’s population, they make up approximately 8%, or $1 trillion, of disposable income.
Additionally, Kearney says that of queer-identifying respondents surveyed in its 2019 “Purchasing with Pride” report, 79% are willing to pay higher prices with companies that support LGBTQ+ causes, 76% choose to buy openly-inclusive brands, and 54% have intentionally driven other consumers to purchase brands that support the LGBTQ+ community
No matter where he goes, Frank Perez sees the queer history of New Orleans written on every wall, and he hears it echoing in every footstep. The past is alive, and Perez wants you to recognize it, too.
“If you don’t know where you’ve been, you’ll end up right back there before long,” Perez said. “Our identity is wrapped up in our past – the people in our lives, the places we’ve lived, the indignities we’ve suffered and the struggles we’ve overcome.”
As a local writer, historian and president of the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, Perez chronicles and preserves the stories of the New Orleans queer community, which has inspired change both within and outside the city. It’s not an undertaking he intentionally set out to claim, but rather, it’s one that found him. “He who gets the vision gets the task.”
Through several books, hundreds of articles and his Rainbow Fleur de Lis Walking Tour, Perez has explored everything from the origins of Southern Decadence to the UpStairs Lounge arson, which prior to the Pulse nightclub shooting was the deadliest attack on queer people in the nation’s history. Perez’s next book will detail the life of gay rights activist Stewart Butler, whose many accomplishments include partnering with transgender activist Courtney Sharp to convince the local PFLAG chapter – and later the national chapter – to include trans people in its mission statement.
Many such often-forgotten historical jewels decorate the city’s past, and by uncovering them, Frank hopes to honor the sacrifices made along the way to progress. He is also quick to remind people that when it comes to securing protection for trans people of color: “There’s a lot more to do.”
The LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana
Instead of establishing an archive of its own, the LGBT+ Archives Project facilitates historical donations and holdings at libraries and repositories throughout the state, including The Historic New Orleans Collection and Amistad Research Center at Tulane University.
The 501(c)(3) nonprofit also partnered with the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History at LSU in Baton Rouge to conduct an “Oral History Project” documenting the histories and experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the state.
Anyone wishing to contribute historical LGBTQ+ materials or an oral history is encouraged to contact the Archives Project.
(she/her in drag, he/they out of drag)
With a name like Laveau Contraire—part play on words, part reference to the legendary Voodoo Priestess—it’s no wonder this drag artist has become something of a local superstar. Of course, it helps that her talent, creativity and charm are just as spellbinding as her namesake.
“My drag is a love letter to all the Black women who have inspired me in some way, shape or form,” Contraire said. “Drag is about embracing everything that you are. I do this to live out loud for younger generations and to show people they can be as flamboyant and extravagant as I am.”
Contraire started performing in 2015 as part of Tumblr’s Drag Race Cycle 7, went on to win the crown in that competition, and in 2020, received the FLAME Award for Best Drag Queen in New Orleans.
Along with local performer Tarah Cards, Contraire was also one of the masterminds behind the “Cyber Distancing” online drag festival, providing an outlet for creativity (and a source of income) for drag and burlesque artists affected by the pandemic. Making the digital transition might have been difficult for some, but Contraire is distinctly skilled at marketing and branding: Laveau herself is just one half of a whole persona completed by photographer and musician WNDRBY.
When searching for her next move or project, Contraire says she reflects on the kind of adult she would have liked to know as a child. From there, it’s all instinct.
“That little kid we grew up as is with us all the time,” Contraire said. “Every now and then, I get a tap on the shoulder from that kid saying, ‘Let’s do that next,’ and I have to honor that journey.”
Drag & Social Change
Drag queens, especially queens of color, have long been pioneers and trailblazers within the LGBTQ+ rights movement.
In the 1880s, William Dorsey Swann, a former slave who was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, began identifying as the “queen of drag.” Swann hosted numerous drag balls at secret locations and was eventually arrested with the charge of “keeping a disorderly house.” After serving a 10-month prison sentence, Swann became the first American in recorded history to pursue legal action in defense of LGBTQ+ people’s right to gather.
Today, modern drag activists still use their artistry to spark conversations and advance dialogue surrounding racial and social justice.
Steph Lee, FNP
If Steph Lee had his way, his job would be obsolete. All healthcare providers would be so accustomed to facilitating compassionate care for trans and gender-nonconforming people that there would be no need for specialists.
“The reality is,” Lee said, “that healthcare is a place that has historically been—and continues to be—a site of great harm, abuse and trauma for gender-expansive people. From outright hostility to unintentional missteps, the compounding harm from attempting to access care can have lasting consequences.”
A California native, Lee spent several years in San Francisco as a queer and trans youth programs specialist for an Asian and Pacific Islander HIV-prevention organization. However, it was only after establishing a transgender care clinic with Planned Parenthood that he decided to pursue a career in medicine. The subsequent years of education – and a completed residency at Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center in Hawaii – finally brought Lee to the gender care team at CrescentCare, in a role he calls his “dream job.”
“As a child of Korean immigrants and as an openly trans nurse practitioner, I really didn’t think I would be here,” Lee said. “Even as a young adult, I couldn’t even imagine a world in which I could be a provider of gender-affirming care.”
The dedicated efforts of healthcare providers like Lee have become even more critical during Louisiana’s 2021 legislative session, which saw the introduction of four bills targeting the medical and educational rights of trans youth.
“These bills represent a fundamental lack of understanding of what gender affirming care is,” Lee said. “In that: we listen to youth, believe their hopes, cares and health are important, and work as a team with their guardians and medical providers to bring them to their healthiest potential.”
A Legacy of Wellness
CrescentCare emerged from NO/AIDS Task Force, an organization that provided inclusive medical care in New Orleans for more than 30 years. Their evolving range of services are a continued response to issues related to systemic racism, homophobia, transphobia, poverty and more.
In addition to its Transgender Advisory Committee, which advises on procedures within the Gender Clinic and other trans health community forums, CrescentCare operates a Black Leadership Advisory Committee to identify and address health disparities within the African American community.
Jancarlos “J.C.” Romero, EdD
Not many people can say they’ve gone from dropping out of high school to earning a Doctor of Education. Then again, not many people can say they ran for an Orleans Parish School Board seat as an openly gay candidate – and won against an opponent with a history of resistance to LGBTQ+ protections in schools.
J.C. Romero has done both.
As the son of a Nicaraguan immigrant, Romero observed the relationship between equity and education at a young age. “I remember wanting what other kids had, and wanting to change that for myself,” he said. “That shaped my desire to mesh education and social justice.”
Though his own education was briefly disrupted by his coming out experience, Romero obtained his GED from Delgado’s Adult Education Program – a program he now directs – and spent several years teaching K-12 regionally and in Thailand. In every setting, he strives to inspire his students and colleagues by living authentically and promoting the advancement of educational opportunities for marginalized populations.
“As a leader, I want to make sure we’re meeting issues of equity related to race, gender, sexual orientation, and poverty with culturally sustainable solutions,” Romero said. “I don’t hide who I am, and being myself helps to advance that dialogue.”
Romero’s priorities as District 4 School Board member also include examining education reform alongside criminal justice reform, two issues he says are inextricably linked and constitute a school-to-prison pipeline.
“It’s an honor to be the first openly LGBTQ+ person of color to be elected to public office in Louisiana,” he said. “I’m proud of overcoming that barrier. Now, my greatest source of pride is removing barriers for others and showing them they can persevere through anything.”
THE NEED FOR SUPPORTIVE SCHOOLS
In the 2019 School Climate Survey, GLSEN (formerly the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) reported that students experience less anti-LGBTQ+ victimization and are more likely to report victimization incidents in schools with comprehensive anti-discrimination policies. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ students who experience discrimination in school have lower GPAs and higher levels of depression.
The same report shows that in Louisiana, only 5% of schools have comprehensive anti-bullying policies, while only 2% of those policies include specific language for transgender and nonbinary students. 75% of LGBTQ+ students in Louisiana experienced at least one incident of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in school within the surveyed school year.
Meeting the legal needs of LGBTQ+ clients is not just business for Sheila Wilkinson. It’s personal.
“I grew up in an HIV household,” Wilkinson said. “My parents were diagnosed at a time when HIV was stigmatized as a ‘gay disease.’ Clearly, that wasn’t the case, as my parents were not gay.”
Seeing this stigma firsthand, and spending much of her childhood around people “who deserved more resources and opportunities than were available,” served to naturally center the LGBTQ+ community in Wilkinson’s professional development. She worked with the Anti-Bullying Project and the Hate Crimes Project of New Orleans before beginning her legal career and founding SMWPLC, where she has proudly offered queer-specific services since day one.
“People believe the only thing that matters to an LGBTQ+ person is marriage equality,” Wilkinson said. “We’re happy for that, but there are a ton of issues still on the table each and every day: hate crimes, employment and education discrimination, markers on IDs and birth certificates, adoption, housing, the criminalization of HIV and more.”
Though her law firm has evolved to mostly focus on business law and coaching, Wilkinson says that helping LGBTQ+ clients establish, scale and protect their businesses requires an understanding of personal factors that can affect their success, like family and discrimination. She strives to help other lawyers understand these nuances as well, most recently through a series of LGBTQ+ cultural competency sessions for the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division.
“You have to do more than just be LGBTQ+ friendly,” she said. “You have to be a constant, ardent, zealous supporter and advocate. I believe I was put on this earth to help others live their most authentic lives, and I strive each day to do that.”
Diversity in Law
Since 2002, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) has conducted annual surveys of LGBTQ+ representation among lawyers, along with other diversity factors such as race, disability and gender identity.
Out of surveyed firms, the 2020 NALP Diversity Report counted 3,187 openly LGBTQ+ lawyers in the United States, rising to 3.31% of all lawyers, as opposed to 1,100, or less than 1%, in the 2002 report. These numbers stand to grow even further. Surveys show approximately 7.68% of summer associates, temporary workers who have not yet completed law school or passed the bar exam, identify as LGBTQ+.