When a city council member in Shreveport, Louisiana, used the Bible to argue against an ordinance protecting LGBTQ+ people, Pamela Raintree challenged him to cast the first stone.
Pamela Raintree is no stranger to fighting. A transgender woman from Pascagoula, Mississippi, she has been fighting her whole life—for fair treatment, for representation, and for unity.
“Pascagoula . . . it’s a conservative little town, very evangelical town. Growing up as a trans woman before anyone even knew what that meant in that part of the world, it was a very difficult process. I got beat up in school almost every day for the first three years. My parents were really hard on me because I was never one of those people that could be in a closet. As hard as I tried, the girl just stuck out all over the place, so it was difficult.”
Pamela—an Army veteran, a sign painter, and an activist in her sixties—has been a lifelong advocate for equality. She began working in the LGBTQ+ community in the 1980s, counseling transgender people in crisis; she also supported the parents of transgender children. “I developed a reputation for being the person to go to for that, and did just numerous classroom talks. I would go to counselor conferences and address people on gender issues.” Pamela moved up to Shreveport in the late 1990s. “I was the transsexual in Shreveport, so that’s how we wound up getting involved when this ordinance thing came up.”
In 2009, as one of his first actions in office, Mayor Cedric B. Glover signed an Executive Order that expanded the city government’s non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Though a step in the right direction, the Executive Order was an impermanent measure; if the Mayor left office the non-discrimination policy would leave with him. At about the same time, Councilmember Ron Webb opposed the use of city funds to support the inaugural presentation of a local Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. Encouraged by the progressive nature of the Mayor’s Executive Order and alarmed by the council member’s opposition to LGBTQ+ rights, the Shreveport City Council and local LGBTQ+ activists decided to work toward a more permanent anti-discrimination law. Pamela joined the fight for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
More than four years of fearless, concerted advocacy finally resulted in full protection for LGBTQ+ citizens under the laws of Shreveport. The city became only the second in the state to pass such an ordinance.
That work came to fruition on December 10, 2013 when Ordinance No. 149, known as the “Freedom Ordinance,” was passed by the Shreveport City Council. Of the seven council members, six voted in favor of the law—nearly unanimous approval for equal protection. But there was one dissenting vote: Ron Webb, the same council member whose opposition to LGBTQ+ rights galvanized activists like Pamela years earlier.
Despite the widespread support that the Ordinance enjoyed from every other council member and the community writ large, the council member refused to end his crusade against the LGBTQ+ community. During the following session, he introduced a motion to repeal the Freedom Ordinance that Pamela and her peers had just fought so hard for.
In an earlier meeting, Councilmember Webb had made his views perfectly clear, saying that he doesn’t socialize with LGBTQ+ individuals because “the Bible tells us that we shouldn’t.” In the same meeting, he cited the Bible as the basis for this rationale, noting that the Christian text portrays homosexuality as an “abomination” and that those who identify as LGBTQ+ “will not inherit the kingdom of Heaven.” He believed that the council would never be able to determine if an LGBTQ+ person was fired or denied service as a result of their sexual orientation. But what infuriated Pamela the most was when he contended that God—not the council—should be the one to judge. Further, he implied that people who choose the path of discrimination do so on God’s behalf.
Guided by a deep belief that the separation of church and state is the bedrock of America, Pamela knew that, yet again, it was time to fight. The council member’s failure as a public official to keep church and state separate—and his selective use of Bible passages to veil his own personal prejudices—was a form of hate that Pamela could not abide. She refused to see Shreveport’s Freedom Ordinance repealed, which would eliminate legal protection for LGBTQ+ people and unravel years of advocacy efforts.
Fortunately, Pamela had the community behind her. Dozens of Shreveport citizens came out to voice their support for the non-discrimination ordinance at the January 14, 2014 city council meeting where the motion to repeal would be discussed. One speaker, Sherry Lester Kircus, who grew up in Shreveport, also called on the Bible—but to challenge the anti-LGBTQ+ bias driving repeal efforts. Growing up at her church in Shreveport, Kircus said, she was taught that the Bible’s most important lessons were “to judge not and to love your neighbor,” no matter who they were. “As for obeying the Bible….We don’t worry about mixed fibers in our clothing, and here in Louisiana, we love our shrimp and our pork chops. Surely we can manage to love our LGBT neighbors also.”
But the decisive moment came when Pamela gave a speech that ultimately ensured the ordinance would stand.
“I was furious. I’d heard all the arguments back and forth so many times, not just at that city council, but all over the country . . . ‘It’s immoral.’ ‘It’s against God’s law.’ [But] this is a secular society.”
Pamela stood up and told the council that she was proud that they had approved the ordinance weeks before: “It made me feel that Shreveport was joining the America I served in the U.S. Army to defend. You know, the land of life, liberty and justice for all.”
Without the ordinance, she explained, she might face denial of housing or unfair firing, as she had before, with no recourse for legal action.
“People just don’t like people like me. I think I scare them, make them question how well they fit conventional concepts about what it means to be a man or a woman. Whatever the reason, it has been perfectly legal to discriminate against me because I’m transsexual. Well, the last time I was in these chambers, six of you recognized that there is something inherently wrong, something un-American about legally supporting the denial of fundamental necessities of life, and passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.”
She took a deep breath and gripped the podium tightly as she zeroed in on Councilmember Webb’s biblical argument.
“I want to set the record straight about what the Bible says,” she told the council. “Leviticus 20:13 states ‘If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, they shall surely put him to death.’”
She picked up a stone she had brought with her and dropped it on the table with a thud. If the council member were to truly follow the letter of the biblical law he should’ve stoned Pamela to death in the chamber room.
“I brought the first stone, Mr. Webb, in case…your Bible talk isn’t just a smoke screen for personal prejudices.”
After she finished speaking, “You could have heard a pin drop” says Pamela. Then, despite being instructed not to clap, the gallery of observers burst into applause.
The council member knew he had been defeated. Pamela’s act of courage demonstrated that his use of Biblical text was indeed a veil for his own anti-LGBTQ+ bias. He asked the other council members to remove his motion from the agenda.
The powerful clang of that stone in the city council chambers was a culmination of Pamela’s lifetime of struggle and decades of community leadership. That day, she shattered the hate that sometimes shrouds itself in religion.
“I’m just a regular person—just trying to be a decent human.” But she goes on to say, “Our nation is founded on the idea of freedom—freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion. . . . [Too often] discrimination is grounded in religious-based arguments.”
The story of Pamela’s speech quickly made its way to national news outlets, inspiring audiences across the country. Her courageous act challenged a hateful argument head on, ensuring that, in Shreveport, Freedom Ordinance No. 149 would remain the law of that land.