Evan Bergeron is setting himself up to be the first openly LGBTQ legislator in Louisiana, and his Catholic identity is a significant part of his campaign message. Bergeron’s candidacy is covered in an extensive new profile for the Daily Beast. Interviewed by Tim Teeman, Bergeron passionately discusses faith, identity, and the ways that his policies will support all New Orleans residents.
The profile draws connections between Bergeron and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who also credits his religious upbringing with his sense of political responsibility. Bergeron says:
“Like Mayor Pete, I have faith. The difference is I am Catholic, and I obviously do not agree with some of the major Catholic dictates about homosexuality. I hope that the larger Catholic Church moves in the direction of my local church. I’m not necessarily hopeful it will, but if I can do my part to help it, I will.”
Like Buttigieg, Bergeron has also faced challenges in being fully recognized for both parts of his identity. While working in the early 2000s as a session aide in the Louisiana State Senate, Bergeron thought that his likelihood of becoming a successful legislator was slim. “I always thought if I ever wanted to be my true self, I would never be able to be one of them,” the “titans of the state senate” who were accomplishing so many political goals.
Now running to be counted among that number, Bergeron says that one of his dreams is to set an example for young people about all the opportunities that they can now have:
“I am happy. . .to be able to show an LGBT kid like me in rural Louisiana, who thinks there’s something wrong with them, who is not able to be their true self or do what they want to do, that they can do whatever they want to do and be happy.”
There aren’t currently many examples of that kind for young people in Louisiana. If elected, Bergeron would be the state’s first LGBTQ state legislator. He believes that this scarcity is based in part on the state’s deep religious background. “When I grew up, I turned to faith to mask who I was and do the things I thought it was necessary to do,” he says. “I recognize firsthand the societal pressures that plague much of rural Louisiana.”
As a young person, Bergeron was active in his parish community. He was a Boy Scout and an athlete, trying, in his words, “to fill the role I saw all the men in my community and my friends filling, while still having this internal struggle.” In remembering his Confirmation, Bergeron says:
“What we were taught, the impression I got, was that everything I was feeling and going through was wrong. It was a test of my faith, I was told. The message I was getting was: ‘You’re not working hard enough to pray the gay away, you have to work harder.’”
Despite these negative formative experiences, Bergeron still finds value in the practices of faith. He tells Teeman:
“Religion has an important place in many people’s lives. It has an important place in my life. I feel the importance of spirituality, of believing a spirituality. There is something out there in order to do good for others. I believe I have to be a good person. I believe there are consequences if I’m not a good person. That’s what religion means to me. That’s why I do still call myself a Catholic.”
Today, Bergeron receives strong community support. “When I realized I was surrounded by love from people I love and love me, that was when I found that peace.” He has found a welcoming community in the parish of St. Francis of Assisi. “I can go to St. Francis and come out with a smile on my face and know that the message from the pulpit is that gay people are worthy of love, happiness and God’s grace as anyone else. It’s refreshing.”
Before joining St. Francis’, Bergeron visited other churches with mixed results. “You just gotta find the right church,” he says. “There are so many Catholic churches in New Orleans preaching so many versions and doctrines of Catholicism.” One parish, which he visited following the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, was so hate-filled that he walked out during a sermon. “The priest was going hard on how homosexuality was an abomination and our country was being sucked in by Satan.”
For Bergeron, his relationship to faith is personal, and he believes strongly in the separation of church and state. He is critical of a previously proposed ‘religious liberty-style law’ in Louisiana. “One of the reasons I have put myself forward for election is to make sure there is someone in the legislature who can tell people why these laws are bad for business and the advancement of society.” Rather, he intends to fight for the legal rights of LGBTQ+ people, who do not currently have employment protections in Louisiana. More details regarding Bergeron’s policies and stances can be found on his campaign website.
The coverage of Bergeron’s candidacy is already making an impression and reminding voters that many people do live as both Catholic and LGBTQ+. His hope to set an example for young people in Louisiana is a noble one. More messages about the dignity of LGBTQ+ people inside and outside the Catholic church are always welcomed.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, September 1, 2019