By Ed Walsh
NEW ORLEANS – The LGBT liaison for New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is sharply critical of the American Red Cross’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Larry Bagneris is encouraging the LGBT community to donate money to a newly established fund directed to the needs of LGBT people.
“I’m not willing to stick GLBT money where we’re not getting any benefits from,” said Bagneris, who is also the executive director of the New Orleans Human Relations Commission. “The needs of the community should be recognized.”
Bagneris said his request for assistance for the LGBT community was met with indifference from Red Cross officials. He added that the Red Cross was also not helpful in his appeal to raise money within the gay community and seemed to be more concerned about keeping its logo from being used for the effort than it was about helping people within the community.
“Specifically, we said we need cash money. But we were shuffled from one room to the next. I said the hell with it, let’s take care of our own people,” he said.
Bagneris noted that he’s gotten three separate calls about LGBT people who have been harassed at shelters. He also said that he was concerned about the reports he’s heard of gay people whose partners were killed in the 9/11 attack but were not recognized for survivor benefits by the Red Cross.
In the face of criticism from the LGBT community after 9/11, the Red Cross eventually issued a new set of guidelines designed to recognize same-sex partners in its relief efforts.
Red Cross spokesman Greg Smith said he couldn’t respond directly to Bagneris’ criticism but he noted that the Red Cross is providing help to 150,000 evacuees and that many have been given debit cards to help them with their immediate needs. Smith also explained that for safety and security reasons, the Red Cross has not been allowed into New Orleans itself.
Bagneris is living with friends in Houston, where he noted that many others from the New Orleans LGBT community are now living. He said that like most other LGBTs in New Orleans, he lives paycheck to paycheck and left the city with only the clothes on his back.
But he added that he is luckier than most because he lived in Houston for 15 years and had friends there who have taken him in. Bagneris said that he knows many gay people who are maxing out their credit cards to cover expenses. He knew of a group of 15 people who have all had to share the same hotel room in Houston.
Bagneris helped organize a community meeting at EJ’s bar in Houston on Sept. 2. The meeting was attended by about 150 people, he said. The group discussed their needs and concerns for the future. Bagneris hoped that a newly established fund would best meet the needs of the people he spoke with at the meeting and others who were left homeless by the hurricane.
Bagneris said representatives from the Coors Brewing Company approached him and donated $10,000 in seed money to help start a fund. Coors also helped coordinate the logistics of setting up the relief effort. The fund is a partnership between the New Orleans Mayor’s office and the Houston Gay and Lesbian Center. Donations to the fund can be made by credit card at pridehouston.org or by mailing checks to Pride Houston Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, P.O. Box 66071, Houston, TX 77266. Pride Houston Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund is a registered 501(c)(3) organization (ID# 76-0360374). All donations are tax-deductible and will be processed by the Montrose Counseling Center for distribution of clothing, food, hygiene items, cash and counseling for those in need.
Bangeris’ low opinion of the Red Cross is not shared by Gary Virginia and others who helped organize a major benefit on Labor Day at the Edge Bar in San Francisco’s Castro district. Money raised in that event went directly to the Red Cross. Virginia said that he’s heard very positive things about the Red Cross’s work in the New Orleans area and he said he was impressed by the fact that a very high percentage of donations received by them goes directly to people in need rather than to overhead. Virginia added that it would be impossible to give the money raised to another charity because it was already advertised as a benefit for the Red Cross’s Hurricane Katrina fund.
The American Red Cross also stands to gain $2 million thanks to The Gay and Lesbian Fund of Colorado. The organization announced that because of a million dollar pledge by philanthropist Tim Gill, it will match donations of Coloradoans up to $250 with the money going directly to the Red Cross.
Others are urging LGBT donations be sent through the Rainbow World Fund. The organization announced on its rainbowworldfund.org Web site that donations would be channeled to America’s Second Harvest Food Bank, with the promise that 100 percent of funds would go to hurricane survivors.
The Metropolitan Community Church has launched a major fundraising effort through its site, MCCChurch.org, and is working to provide hurricane victims with spiritual as well as financial assistance.
Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P-FLAG) is soliciting donations to help with its chapters in the Gulf Coast region. For more information, visit its Web site http://www.pflag.org.
The National Youth Advocacy Coalition established a hurricane relief targeted toward LGBT youth and families. More information can be found on its site: nyacyouth.org
The New Orleans’ Gay Men’s Chorus is asking that people who wish to donate send a check payable to NOGMC (New Orleans Gay Men’s Chorus) to: Michael Knight; 2400 Fountaine View; Unit 434; Houston, TX 77057. The organization is hoping to raise enough money so that it can hold a Christmas Concert this year and can in turn raise money for others in need. The organization believes that the storage facility for its stage sets may have been flooded. But at press time, the organization’s paramount concern was for two if its members who were still unaccounted for.
LGBT families impacted by the hurricane face the challenge that their families and relationships are not recognized by federal government or the states of Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama. 365Gay.com reported Sept. 1 that due to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is prevented from providing any relief in the form of family benefits to same-sex couples, including relief for gays and lesbians whose partners were killed as a result of the storm.
Bagneris estimated that nearly ninety percent of New Orleans had flooded, including the neighborhoods where most gays and lesbians live. Despite the overwhelming challenges, Bagneris undoubtedly spoke for many when he said, “We will be back. You can’t kill the spirit of New Orleans. We will be back.”