Last week, Indiana found itself at the center of a huge media frenzy after Governor Mike Pence signed into law RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act). Businesses, corporations, universities, celebrities, sports figures and organizations, all condemned the passage of this bill and urged for its repeal.
LGBT groups and allies also shared their outrage. On March 28th, a rally was held at the Indiana Statehouse to oppose this bill, bringing over 3,000 people together who felt angry and betrayed by the governor's actions. A march was held the following week during the Final Four, as hundreds of Hoosiers wore t-shirts proudly stating "Indy Welcomes All."
In the meantime, local civic and business leaders tried to undo the damage caused by the negative images of Indiana as an unwelcoming place. Additionally, LGBT leaders met with state legislators to try to "fix" the bill. After hours of deliberation, the bill was amended to ensure that religious objections protected under RFRA cannot be used as a defense in a discrimination lawsuit in communities that already have local human rights ordinances. This means that the added protection ONLY covers 11 Indiana communities, such as Indianapolis and Bloomington, where such protections already exist. Indiana still does not have full statewide protections for LGBT Hoosiers.
As state coordinator of the ten Indiana PFLAG chapters, I have mixed feelings -- on the one hand, I am proud of the outpouring of love and support our community has received. I am very grateful to those who worked with legislators and business leaders to amend the bill. But, on the other hand, I still have fears and trepidations.
Because the amendment only covers those cities with existing human rights ordinances, this leaves LGBT Hoosiers in small towns and rural areas extremely vulnerable. They are now more exposed than ever. They are much more likely to experience discriminatory backlash from newly empowered and angry enemies. Not only does the "fix" not apply to them, but now things can get much worse for them.
Last week, one of the headlines of an editorial in the Indianapolis Star read, "It was a bad week for our state. Now time to heal. #WeAreIndiana." http://www.indystar.com/story/opinion/2015/03/27/editorial-message-world-still-welcome-indiana/70563360/
I understand the intent behind the headline and the article. However, LGBT Hoosiers have had more than a "bad week." They have had a bad twenty years or more. Indiana will recover. But what about the LGBT citizens of Indiana? For too long they have been the victims of legislators and right-wing zealots who have been trying to pass bills that would harm them and their families.
Before RFRA was passed, many of my LGBT friends shared their fears and anxieties about this bill -- how they would react if and when they were turned away from healthcare offices, banks, restaurants, etc. Imagine living that way day-to-day -- not knowing if you will be able to take care of yourself and your family the way you need to do. Think of the emotional, psychological and physical toll this places on LGBT Hoosiers.
We cannot sit by and claim total victory. NOW is the time to push for statewide legal protections for every LGBT Hoosier -- not just those living in the supportive communities that the "fix" could impact. We must be cognizant of LGBT youth who are still at risk -- who still face bullying and harassment at school on a daily basis. We need to be aware that there are still LGBT adults who cannot be out at work for fear they might get fired. These are REAL PEOPLE -- they are students who need to get an education -- they are adults who need to support and feed their families. They are your neighbors, friends and co-workers.
Additionally, we need to focus on what is important. Rather than sharing distracting stories about bigoted pizza restaurant owners, we need to share OUR stories. Tell people WHY you and your families need statewide protections. Share why it's important that your LGBT adult child resides and works in a safe environment. Explain why LGBT youth need to live in a state that causes them no harm. Explain what this means to YOU.
We cannot let our legislators off the hook. The media will be packing up soon. The world will be looking at the next big story. But we owe it to our LGBT brothers and sisters to keep the pressure up here in Indiana. Our LGBT friends and loved ones are not slogans or twitter hashtags -- they are real people who need real solutions. We must not abandon them.