Building a New (and Gay) Life in Baton Rouge
Our blog post for Pride Month features a a piece by Forum 225 member Chris Fiore recounting his experience moving to Baton Rouge as a gay young professional.
July 6, 2022
It was February of 2021 when I got the call: a job offer was waiting for me that I couldn’t turn down. I was working in California at the time, running communications for the City of South Lake Tahoe, but the new job would elevate me to running a department of my own for a state agency. Higher profile, a better paycheck, and I’d have a staff. The problem? The job was in Louisiana.
For almost four years, my husband and I had lived in northeast Louisiana. I anchored the news for an area in north Louisiana, and I can’t count the number of times we were called something derogatory when we were just getting out of the car or walking into the mall. It seemed so at odds because as a young professional in television, those same people welcomed me into their living rooms night after night. Somehow, you turn the studio lights off, hang the suit up, and suddenly you’re just that gay guy worthy of being screamed at from the passing truck. When the opportunity came to leave, it was an easy choice to move to California. Not just for the work, but also for the comfort that came with knowing we could be out, proud, and in public.
After the call about a job in Baton Rouge came, my husband and I had a long talk about the offer and the opportunities and challenges it presented. We talked with friends who lived in Baton Rouge, and they assured us it was different here, and thankfully, it turned out they were right.
Baton Rouge is a relatively progressive city in that it is full of youth and vigor, pride, and promise, and the culture here is abundant. For all of its tradition though, I have to say the Capital City has made me feel not just welcome as a gay man but also respected as a gay professional working here.
It’s nice to know I’m not a needle in a haystack either. Step inside George’s Place, the divey, downtown gay bar that feels like home, and you find a community of people ready to welcome you with open arms. Splash gives you the big city, LGBTQ club vibes, and a quick google search provides you with a wealth of restaurants and shops that are gay-owned or gay-affirming. The city’s annual Pride festival is a delightful departure from some of the more conservative areas of Louisiana that and is an important beacon for queer folks in our region. Baton Rouge feels like a welcoming place for everyone, and I think that has a lot to do with the city being a melting pot of sorts. People from all over the state, and country, land here, and build lives.
This is certainly not a city without its challenges, though. Baton Rouge currently scores 51 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Index. The city needs to look at its non-discrimination policies for the LGBTQ community as it relates to housing, public accommodations, and employment. It also needs to extend its outreach to both the trans community and the older LGBTQ residents that call this place home.
Baton Rouge is also a city with openly gay leaders and LGBTQ liaisons in the Mayor/President’s office and the Police Department. It’s a city where leaders aren’t afraid to show their support for the LGBTQ community and their work towards the goal of making this a more inclusive community for everyone. That effort for change made the choice to move to Baton Rouge an easy one. The future is bright here, as long as we keep putting that effort in to make it a little better one day at a time.