PACE, People Acting for Change and Equality, was founded in 2005 following the 2004 passage (by 78%) of Louisiana’s anti-gay marriage amendment. We believed that creating an environment where gay people could thrive was vital not only for LGBTQ+ people and their families, but for our community at large.
Public policy research has shown that cities that thrive economically are the ones that are able to attract the “creative class” of high-talent, technologically-skilled workers who come together and leverage and enhance each other’s productivity. These cities not only tolerate but embrace a high level of diversity, and in particular are especially welcoming to gays and lesbians. In a 2000 ranking of comparably sized cities, Shreveport ranked #63 out of 63 in its ability to attract the creative class, which was a realistic reflection of Shreveport’s attitude towards its LGBTQ+ community: anti-gay at worst, DADT at best. But things have changed a lot in Shreveport, due to two phenomena: (1) the rise of the film industry in Shreveport, and (2) the emergence of PACE as a strong advocate for change.
PACE has engaged in many projects from explicitly policy-driven ones to those seemingly unrelated to public policy like our biggest public event, our film festival, OUTnorthLa. However, all our events are tied directly or indirectly to creating an environment of equality and safety for the LGBTQ+ community. We use events like our film festival, a form of entertainment, as a vehicle to educate a city of potential allies (and foes) that LGBTQ+ people exist, live lives of meaning, accomplishment, faith and family like everyone else, but who also face some very difficult challenges and senseless discrimination that others do not face.
OUTnorthLa, has been the catalyst for securing nondiscrimination job protections in both the public and private sectors, and having the film festival featured on the cover of our newspaper’s Friday Preview section every year has given us wonderful PR that we couldn’t have gotten any other way. Since our film festival’s inaugural year of 2009, our mayor has attended every opening night reception. After working with Mayor Cedric Glover’s office for over two years on an employment nondiscrimination executive order (ENDA) covering sexual orientation and gender identity for City of Shreveport workers, it was finally issued after a Shreveport city councilman’s punitive actions against the Robinson Film Center (RFC) for allowing our first film festival to be held there. This provoked a strong response from PACE, the RFC, and the local burgeoning film industry, and within days, on Dec. 17, 2009, the mayor issued the public ENDA adding sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to the City of Shreveport’s employment nondiscrimination policies. Shreveport City Council followed with a unanimous matching resolution, Dec. 21, 2009.
In 2014, two prominent Shreveport City Council members, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, both attended our reception along with their wives. Following a 2 year Be Fair Shreveport campaign that PACE conducted jointly with Forum for Equality to raise workplace fairness issues that the LGBTQ+ community faces, these two City Council members then went on to co-sponsor a city ordinance extending nondiscrimination protections in private sector jobs, housing, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The ordinance passed 6-1 on December 10, 2013! It immediately faced a repeal effort (by the same city council member who tried to punish the RFC for hosting our film festival back in 2009) that failed on January 14, 2014. On June 10, 2014, the City Council voted 6-1 for the Human Relations Commission Ordinance that created a commission that will serve as the education/enforcement mechanism for the Shreveport Fairness Ordinance.
PACE, largely through our very successful film festival, has moved the LGBTQ+ community from “other” to a very visible, highly-respected part of north Louisiana that plays an active role in its cultural, economic, and civic life.