One of the most defiant sights in the streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was a group of gay and lesbian revellers who were not about to allow the storm that ravaged their city destroy their spirit as well.
Despite the hurricane having destroyed an entire city and forced the cancellation of the five-day Southern Decadence gay and lesbian celebration, a group of about two dozen people marched through the French Quarter, proudly waving a tattered rainbow flag that had been salvaged from a nearby bar.
Southern Decadence, which was due to begin on 2 September, regularly attracts 125,000 people to the city, injecting millions into the local economy.
While the French Quarter was left relatively unscathed by the brutal storm, many gay and lesbian businesses have reported they will never be able to re-open due to lost income and the looting that has occurred.
New estimates claim as many as 10,000 people have been killed in the area, with many hundreds of thousands of others displaced and made homeless. There are new calls for parts of the city of New Orleans to be completely demolished and it is expected to be months before the population will be able to return to the devastated area.
Fundamentalist Christian groups, however, wasted no time is using the disaster to further condemn homosexuality.
Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city, Michael Marcavage, the director of Christian group Repent America, said.
New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin, however Hurricane Katrina has put an end [to that] sin, Marcavage said.
Gay and lesbian support groups throughout the US have rallied to support victims, by providing revenue, supplies and emergency housing.
The Montrose Counselling Centre in Houston, Texas, established a regularly updated database listing available accommodation for GLBTI victims displaced by Katrina.
There’s been a tremendous outpouring of concern and support, Sally Huffer from Montrose Counselling Centre told 365Gay.com.
The Houston Gay and Lesbian Switchboard has been inundated with calls from locals offering their homes to people displaced by the hurricane, Huffer said.
Chat show favourite Ellen DeGeneres, a native of New Orleans, is using her daily TV show to help raise funds contributing to relief efforts.
New Orleans is my home town, and it’s gone, DeGeneres told the New York Daily News. I don’t think people have grasped this – it’s a million people who are homeless.
Other groups such as the Metropolitan Community Church, Rainbow World Fund, the National Youth Advocacy Coalition, Family Pride Coalition and the National Centre for Lesbian Rights, are among other groups who have shown support.
The pharmaceutical company Pfizer has also announced it is partnering with other pharmaceutical companies to make Pfizer medicines more readily available throughout the stricken areas, particularly medicines for people living with HIV/AIDS.
But many of the gay and lesbian survivors will face new challenges as they are resettled into states which have different gay laws.Â The Federal Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) ensures individual states are not required to acknowledge any legal recognition given to same-sex couples from other states.
Under the laws of DOMA, if one partner in a same-sex relationship has died due to Katrina, the surviving partner may be prevented from gaining social security benefits, insurance and superannuation payments. If a custodial parent has died, their partner may be denied parental rights and their children could be placed in foster care.
Visitation rights in hospital and having a say in their partner’s medical care or funeral arrangements are other issues that DOMA creates for same-sex partnered families.
It underscores all of the inequities same-sex couples face, Dallas legal attorney Ken Upton told 365Gay.com.
Most of the evacuees from the New Orleans area are being relocated to Texas, primarily in the Houston area. Upton said in the coming weeks he expects to hear from many same-sex couples who are encountering legal problems.
It’s hard at times like these for marginalised groups -“ particularly gays and lesbians -“ to be part of the bigger American picture, Upton said.