SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Sam and Nicole Ortiz live a life of service, which includes their daily pursuit of inclusion and access to vital community resources for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The Ortizes founded ShrevePride with film producer Chris Lyon in 2019 to provide inclusive spaces where LGBTQ+ community members in the Shreveport-Bossier area can be themselves.

“Probably, the most important part of our mission is that we’re able to create these spaces and these events for everyone, regardless of their financial situation,” Sam said. “And so, that’s kind of been our crux moving forward is just being able to give people what they have so desired for so long in this community.”

In addition to creating inclusive spaces and programming, ShrevePride has events that are affordable and accessible for LGBTQ+ teens and adults.

“We want to have accessible spaces for everyone to come and feel safe because who doesn’t want to feel safe?”

Q Prom is one of those accessible, affordable, safe spaces created for the community by the team at ShrevePride.

“Like Q Prom, for example, probably should be a $100 ticket. But we sell those tickets for $35. And anybody that would like to come to any of our events that cannot afford to, we give out scholarship tickets for free, no questions asked,” said Sam.

It is an idea they say was born out of nostalgia. But it also gives some in the LGBTQ+ community an opportunity to relive or reimagine prom as they are rather than as society expects them to be.

“Something that you want to maybe do over that when you were a teenager, you didn’t necessarily have the opportunity to do because maybe you didn’t know then that you were queer. Maybe where you lived, you weren’t accepted,” Sam said. “And who doesn’t want to do prom over?”

  • People dancing at Q Prom 2019
  • Group of people taking a photo at Q Prom
  • Couple posing for a photo at Q Prom
  • People dancing at Q Prom 2019
  • Couple posing for a photo at Q Prom
  • Group of people taking a photo at Q Prom
  • People dancing at Q Prom 2019

This makes ShrevePride’s work to recreate those happy experiences in an environment where queer community members can feel like their authentic selves even more vital.

“I know, for me, it was fascinating to be able to go with my wife to prom and get to wear the clothes that I wanted to wear and not feel like an imposter in a costume all night long.”

ShrevePride networks with other regional organizations to provide more equity in resources, support, and knowledge for LGBTQ+ community members.

When they started holding events, Sam said convincing interested businesses to support them publicly was a challenge. Things have improved a lot over the years, and now they say companies, mental health professionals, and vendors come to them and want booths at their events.

Field Gay, an outdoor intramural sports competition and festival, was born out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic when large gatherings were discouraged. The event has quickly grown in scope and participation.

“We need volunteers for each of our three events like Field Gay. That’s coming up April 1. If you would like to volunteer, we need you, please!”

  • Participants at Field Gay intramural event
  • Team at Field Gay intramural event
  • Participants at Field Gay intramural event
  • Visitors at Field Gay intramural event

Last year, they introduced Quest, an LGBTQ+ music and arts festival. The event featured comedy and drag shows with live music performances and late-night dancing.

  • Quest: LGBTQ+ Music and Arts Festival
  • Guests at Quest: LGBTQ+ Music and Arts Festival

The Ortizes said the national debates over LGBTQ+ and women’s rights make these inclusive spaces even more critical. Sam said that women are often invisible in any movement, that includes women within the LGBTQ+ movement.

“You know, trans women face probably the largest disparities of anyone in this country,” Sam said. “They’re treated like criminals. They are a lot of times beaten. They’re made fun of.”

An additional barrier for transgender people is access to healthcare and support. Trans community members are often misunderstood or alienated by other queer people.

“There are a lot of people in the LGBTQ community that don’t feel like the T belongs on the end of the LGB. There’s a lot of people in the community that don’t want the transgender community being a part of our fight.”

The National LGBTQ Task Force analysis of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, shows Black transgender and gender non-conforming people face some of the highest levels of discrimination in the country.

According to the analysis, Black transgender people are four times as likely to be unemployed, five times as likely to experience homelessness, and eight times as likely to live in extreme poverty than the general U.S. population.

“And in these minority communities, it’s a fear to allow their children to even explore these things because it’s like, you already have to experience life as a minority, why would I as a parent or caregiver want you to add on this extra layer. Which is something that white communities experience as well, but I know just being half Mexican, the fear that I felt from being an LGBTQ person. How am I gonna talk to my family about this? How am I gonna talk to my dad about this and feeling like I’ve already got X Y Z going against me? I’m a woman, I’m Mexican, and now I’m gonna add queer to that,” Sam said.

According to the ACLU, over the last few years, lawmakers have proposed a record number of bills to restrict LGBTQ rights, particularly regarding transgender youth. Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently signed a law restricting school bathroom use by transgender youth.

In 2022 the Louisiana Legislature passed a bill banning transgender females from participating in girls’ high school athletics. Raymond Crews, Louisiana State Representative of District 8 in Bossier Parish, proposed HB81, or the “Given Name Act,” in March. It would allow school employees to refuse to use a student’s preferred pronouns or any name other than their given name.

Sam said LGBTQ+ children in families that support these bills feel like they’re unloved and unsupported. Many end up in the foster care system after they are kicked out or run away from home.

According to Sam, the Court Appointed Special Advocates and the Volunteers for Youth Justice have seen an increase in LGBTQ+ youth in the Shreveport-Bossier foster care system. She said ShrevePride partnered with CASA in the past to bring awareness to CASA’s work and bring awareness to the need for more volunteers to advocate for children.

“What if we have these foster kids that were…ran away from home or kicked out of their homes because they’re LGBTQ. And then they’re thrown into a foster home that is also not LGBTQ-affirming and then they get a court-appointed advocate that is also not LGBTQ-affirming? We are setting these children up for misery. And so, that’s why we have really, really thought it was so important to partner with CASA because those kids need our help too.”

LGBTQ people are also overrepresented at every stage of the criminal justice system, starting with the juvenile justice system, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. While LGBTQ+ youth comprise 9.5% of the general population, they are 20% of the juvenile justice system.

Nicole says that this often starts with survival. She explained that when a family or foster family kicks an LGBTQ+ child out and they become homeless, many turn to commercial sex work or drugs to survive. The Prison Policy Initiative data shows lesbian and bisexual women are four times as likely to be arrested than straight women.

“So, if I’m a mother and I have a 14-year-old daughter who comes out to me, and I’m like, ‘I absolutely cannot deal with this. You have to get out of my home right now.’ But I also sit and watch the news and think about how awful the world is because these people are so violent, and there are so many people in prison and things are just so awful. But in about ten years, my daughter, who I kicked out of my home, who I put in that situation, is now one of those people.”

Sam says one of the first things the community can do to stop the cycle is not to allow negative rhetoric about members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Not letting the person that you work with speak ill about trans individuals, not letting your grandfather sit at the dinner table and talk bad about lesbians. And might it be a little uncomfortable for you? Yes, probably. But a lot of us have been uncomfortable for our entire lives.”

The Center for Countering Digital Hate and the Human Rights Campaign found that inflammatory anti-LGBTQ rhetoric increased during the first half of 2022. The rise in inflammatory rhetoric and attacks on the community prompted an examination by the House and Reform Oversight Committee in December.

“I think that people really need to take a moment to examine their own personal bias when it comes to that because Nicole and I’s marriage doesn’t directly affect anyone else’s marriage. We are very close to lots of straight couples, and we do the same things they do, and we pay our taxes and contribute to our community and save people’s lives at our day jobs,” Sam said.

Nicole believes that it’s vital for the community to understand that LGBTQ people are not different. “Sam still gets annoyed when I leave hair in the shower, that’s very much a regular thing in any marriage. And so, I don’t understand where it comes from. I really don’t.”

In the future, Sam said she would love to see a local LGBTQ resource center that could host gatherings, and support groups and provide mental health services for community members, parents, and caregivers.

“I would love to see a world where Shreve pride is not necessary, where we don’t have to create LGBTQ positive events. We like to say in our mission statement, we create events with the LGBTQ community in mind, but everyone is always welcome. My parents come to all of the events we do, they’re my biggest allies. And so, we would love to see a world where every event that is created is LGBTQ inclusive.”

For more information about ShrevePride programming or partner organizations, visit their website.