Louisiana: Top & bottom

Part 2, profiling our gaybor to the East: Shreveport’s homespun gay appeal

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

KING OF CAKES
KING OF CAKES | The king cakes at Julie Anne’s are the best you’ve ever had, but all the baked goods soar. Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

We profiled the bottom of Louisiana as a travel destination earlier this month — now it’s time to hit the top.

With Southern Decadence right around the corner in New Orleans, nearby Shreveport-Bossier City doesn’t get the attention from gay travelers it deserves. But this neighbor to the east is making strides in cultivating its LGBT cred — and not just during Mardi Gras (although we like it for Mardi Gras a lot).

Much of the central business district is fairly compact and surprisingly lively. Less than a week after SoDec ends, Shreveport will gay up the state with the town’s second annual Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, sponsored by PACE (People Acting for Change and Equality) at the Robinson Film Center. The Robinson, like our own Angelika, is a mecca for artsy films (it was the only place in the region to show Milk a few years ago). It’s a beautiful, modern facility that, along with the ArtSpace across the street, gives Downtown an artistic vibe. That sense is augmented with John Waters in tow, which he will be for the fest.

Credit SBC’s progressives for standing up for gay rights. Last year, a city councilman threatened to yank funding for the Robinson because of the gay film fest. The reaction was large enough that not only did the resolution get nowhere, in December the city adopted a non-discrimination policy that covers sex and gender identity. (PACE is also sponsoring a mayoral candidate forum this Sunday.)

Walk or drive down toward the Red River to check out Sci-Port, an interactive science museum targeting families and especially curious kids, but an addictively entertaining place for nerds of all ages. The Sawyer Space Dome Planetarium inside offers everything from laser shows to calculating your weight on the moon (a boon to pound-conscious gays) and lets you show the stars on the day you were born. It also hosts the state’s only IMAX dome theater.

Just down the street, the Barnwell Memorial Garden and Art Center has a greenhouse that’s a hoot to wander through.

Farther away, but completely worth the drive, is the R.W. Norton Art Gallery, a huge museum of eclectic and excellent art, including “double elephant” Audubon portfolios and rotating high-end exhibitions. The self-guided cell-phone tour is an ingenious way to enjoy the art at your own pace.

Perhaps the most interesting attraction, though, is the Logan Mansion. Built in 1897, this private home (Vicky and Billy LeBrun live here full-time) is an architectural marvel bursting with history. It’s also full of believable ghost stories, which Vicky is more than willing to share. It’s one the best historic home tours ever.

Although SBC is not as famed as the Crescent City, all Louisianans know how to enjoy their food, and the culinary scene has several highlights.

Don’t miss the Wine Country Bistro, which deftly executes rustic dishes with French and American country influences. Try the perfectly seared scallops (the size of a fish) on a bed of bacon grits, a corn bread soufflé so sweet it’s more like spoon bread and a mixed berry cobbler with buttermilk ice cream that’s slap-yo’-mama good.

Bistro Byronz has branches in Baton Rouge and Mandeville, but the décor and fare cry out New Orleans, with traditional French dishes like cassoulet (a hearty white bean soup) and chicken paillard (a form of scallopini) in a casual setting that invites jazz music and mimosa.

Logan Mansion
GHOST TOUR | Logan Mansion offers one of the best hist- oric home tours anywhere. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

More formal and spacious, but just as delectable, is Giuseppe, an Italian restaurant with tons of private dining rooms for intimate parties. Try the Sunday “champagne symphony” brunch, which serves bottomless bellinis, mimosas or champagne for six bucks and has well-priced entrees. The razor-thin salmon carpaccio is a highlight, but the housemade pastas are unmissable.

OK, some of the food is more kitsch that cuisine — but even that is noteworthy. Julie Anne’s Bakery is home to the king cake, the signature confectionary of the Lenten season. If you’ve only choked down local grocery store versions, be prepared: They do ‘em right here (as many as 600 a day in the week before Fat Tuesday) and aside from being about as healthy a stick of butter, the flavors are heavenly. (There are other delicious baked goods here for the other 10 months of the year.)

On the other hand, it’s not a bad idea to plan a Mardi Gras season visit, where you can enjoy floats, a pet parade and maybe even get access to the pre-parade krewe parties where the massive moving structures are finished out. Some of the krewes are even gay — which goes to show NOLA doesn’t have a lock on queer-friendly Louisiana.

…………………………………..

LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Wine Country Bistro
Wine Country Bistro

ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONS
ArtSpace, 710 Texas St. ArtSpaceShreveport.com.
Barnwell Memorial Garden & Art Center, 601 Clyde Fant Parkway. BarnwellCenter.com.
North Louisiana Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (Sept. 10–16), NLGFF.org.
Logan Mansion, 725 Austin Place. R.W. Norton Gallery, 4747 Creswell Ave. RWNAF.org.
Robinson Film Center, 617 Texas St. RobinsonFilmCenter.org.
Sci-Port Museum, 820 Clyde Fant Parkway. SciPort.org.

DINING
Bistro Byronz
, 6104 Line Ave. BistroByronz.com.
Giuseppe, 4800 Line Ave. RistoranteGiuseppe.com.
Julie Anne’s Bakery, 825 Kings Highway.
Wine Country Bistro, pictured, 4801 Line Ave. Wine Country Net.com.

RESOURCES
PACE,
PaceLouisiana.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 20, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Miss. lesbian student sues over rejected tux photo

SHELIA BYRD  |  Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — Another teenage lesbian is suing a rural Mississippi school district, this time over a policy banning young women from wearing tuxedos in senior yearbook portraits.

Ceara Sturgis’ dispute with the central Mississippi Copiah County School District started in 2009, well before a student in another Mississippi school district, Constance McMillen, found national attention in her fight to wear a tuxedo and take a same-sex date to prom.

On Tuesday, Aug. 17, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit for Sturgis, claiming the Copiah County district discriminated against her on the basis of sex and gender stereotypes. Her photo and name were kept out of her senior yearbook.

The ACLU first contacted the district in October 2009 about the issue, but officials said they would adhere to a school policy. By the time Wesson Attendance Center yearbooks were released this spring, school officials had made clear Sturgis’ photo in a tuxedo wouldn’t be included. But Sturgis was surprised to see even her name was left out of the senior section.

“I guess in the back of my mind I knew that was going to happen, but I did have a little hope. I cried. I put my head down and put my hand over my face,” Sturgis said Tuesday.

The suit challenges the district’s policy allowing male students, but not female students, to wear a tux for senior portraits. The suit alleges a violation of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination based on gender.

Sturgis, who has worn masculine clothing since ninth grade and began classes at Mississippi State University on Wednesday, Aug. 18, said she felt as if she was being punished “just for being who I am.”

District Superintendent Rickey Clopton didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Sturgis graduated with a 3.9 grade point average and participated in numerous extracurricular activities, including band and soccer, her attorneys said.

“Inclusion in the senior yearbook is a rite of passage for students, and it is shameful that Ceara was denied that chance,” Christine P. Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project said in a statement Tuesday.

“It’s unfair and unlawful to force students to conform to outdated notions about what boys and girls should look like without any regard to who they actually are as people.”

The ACLU attorney also represented McMillen, who drew inspiration from Sturgis in challenging Itawamba County school officials about McMillen’s plans for prom this year.

“I inspired her to do what she did and now we are friends,” Sturgis said.

But Sturgis didn’t face the same hostility as McMillen. Sturgis said her classmates and teachers were supportive, but she hopes hoping the suit will help other gay teenagers who feel they must conceal their gender identity.

“There are students who are hiding it their sexuality,” Sturgis said. “They have come up to me and told me they are. I had already decided what I was going to do, but it just took a little while.”

While she finished her senior year, Sturgis was living last fall with her grandparents in Wesson, a town of about 1,700 founded during the Civil War and 45 miles south of Jackson.

The students took their yearbook portraits at a studio and Sturgis tried on one of the “drapes” that females students are required to wear.

“The thought of a portrait of her in the ‘feminine’ clothing as a representation of her senior year embarrassed her, and she began crying,” the lawsuit states.

Sturgis later put on the tuxedo and was photographed.

School officials informed Sturgis’ mother, Veronica Rodriguez, early in the school year that the tuxedo photograph wouldn’t be allowed, according to the suit. At the time, Clopton said federal court decisions supported the school’s policy.

The lawsuit names the school district, superintendent Clopton and school principal Ronald Greer. It seeks unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees.

The filing comes weeks after McMillen reached a settlement in her federal lawsuit against the Itawamba County School District.

The north Mississippi district had canceled its prom rather than allow McMillen attend with her girlfriend. The district agreed to pay $35,000 and follow a nondiscrimination policy as part of the settlement, though it argued such a policy was already in place

—  John Wright