I won’t write too much this week because my writing juices are feeling a little low, but I did want to talk a bit about the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and its effects on the queer community.

Now a huge disclaimer here: I only lived in New Orleans for about two years and just moved away this summer, so please take a lot of what I describe of my own experience with a grain of salt.

Half of me is going through major NOLA withdrawal, and the other half is so happy to be missing hurricane season and the suffocating August heat. In those two years I met many fantastic queer women, however most of my relationships with them formed out of different activist circles and social justice networks – none of which circled around queer activism. Also, almost all of the queer women I met were young transplants like me, not originally from New Orleans. This could partly be because of the crowds I found myself in, or it could be that many queer women who were living in New Orleans pre-Katrina have not been able to return. (Note that much of what I’ll discuss here is about queer women. Queer men in New Orleans still seem to be flourishing and taking over every LGBTQ event in the city. Not that I don’t love me some queer men, but come on fellas, make room for the ladies. We’re queer too.)

In Charlotte D’Ooge’s 2008 report on “Queer Katrina: Gender and Sexual Orientation Matters in the Aftermath of the Disaster,” she describes that while many of the traditionally gay male sections of the city (the French Quarter for instance) hardly received any lasting damage from the storm and the flooding, traditionally lesbian and queer women’s sections of the city were badly flooded and led to many queer women needing to leave the city. Housing ownership became a huge issue for queer couples, because if one member of the couple passed away in the storm but the house was in their name, their living partner faced difficulties gaining access to their own home. This was also common in parts of the Black community, particularly in the lower 9th ward, where homes were passed down through the generations. However, the name on the deed may have been many years deceased. When these homes were then wrecked by the flooding, the homeowners had no proof that the home belonged to them and could not collect any insurance money.

Transgender women also faced huge amounts of discrimination in the aftermath of Katrina. D’Ooge recounts one story of a transwoman who was sent to jail (which at the time was probably the makeshift prison they made out of the Greyhound station where conditions and treatment were even more horrible than New Orleans' usual police standards) for showering in the women’s bathroom. The people who arrived in the Superdome, the Convention Center, and other relief sites around the city following the storm were assumed to be straight and cisgendered, so often necessary services and respectful treatment were not provided. Many of these factors may add to the decreased presence of queer women in New Orleans, especially those who were there pre-Katrina.

None of this information is terribly new, and there has been so much coverage about the Katrina anniversary that I cringe a little bit at the sight of it because I fear New Orleans continues to be reduced to a victimized city and all the other wonders of its culture are being passed over. But at least the incompetence and inequities of Katrina’s relief process are being highlighted again (at least in the alternative media and on Rachel Maddow; the mainstream media are still pretending that New Orleans is “recovered”, and I feel it’s important to think about how different populations are affected during crises. Blacks, Latinos, and many other people of color will have varying experiences because they may be treated differently by the people handing out the services. People living in poverty will always be hardest hit by disasters, and often they are the last to receive services, if they receive them at all. And queer populations, especially queer women and transfolk, will also be hard hit because the general population doesn’t consider the services needed and the sensitivity necessary when working with us.

Katrina is not a stand-alone event. It has happened again and will continue to do so, whether in the form of a hurricane, an earthquake, a bombing – name your poison. But if in the future we can try to make relief work more inclusive for everyone involved, maybe one person’s nightmare will become a little more bearable.

And just a little something to end on…

Some more links for Katrina Anniversary Media


http://femmepolitical.wordpress.com/2010/08/25/the-truths-of-katrina/ (long but comprehensive overview of New Orleans during Katrina and now)


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