Message to Indiana Governor Pence: The RFRA Is Not Over!

From a news report by Indianapolis WISH-TV Channel 8, "Governor Mike Pence recently suggested that the RFRA crisis is over," making the case by pointing to the recent good news about the Indiana economy.

When I read that, my mouth dropped open! The RFRA crisis is over? In whose eyes? By signing this bill, Mike Pence probably made one of the worst mistakes in his career. Businesses threatened to pull out of Indiana. At least one convention date was cancelled. Mayors around the country banned their employees from traveling to Indiana. On Saturday, March 28th, almost 3,000 people attended a rally at the Indiana Statehouse to protest this discriminatory law, which culminated in Governor Pence being interviewed by George Stephanopoulos on national TV and trying to appease his interviewer when asked if RFRA was indeed discriminatory to LGBT Hoosiers.

To make matters worse, the governor hired public relations firm Porter Novelli to help him enhance the state's reputation. The original contract would have paid the firm $750,000; however, a few weeks ago Pence suddenly dropped the contract. Press secretary Kara Brooks stated, "Given the record-setting pace of job creation by businesses across Indiana, Governor Pence supports the decision by the IEDC to conclude the contract with Porter Novelli and continue current efforts to promote the advantages of doing business and creating jobs in our state." Porter Novelli will receive $350,000 for the work they had already done.

It's bad enough that RFRA was introduced and passed into law. It's bad enough that the state's image was badly tarnished. It's bad enough that the governor could not explain himself properly on national TV. It's terribly bad that the taxpayers are bearing the burden of a $350,000 bill for a clean-up of the mess that Pence made.

One of the things that really bothers me (and there is a LOT that bothers me here) is Pence's statement that the RFRA crisis is over. I think he said that because he WANTS the crisis to be over. He wants to clear the stain on his reputation. Yes, we all want our state to be seen in a better light. We want our economy to get better. But the RFRA crisis is about more than just the economy and Pence's approval rating.

LGBT Hoosiers have been under attack by various state legislators and right-wing ringleaders for many years. A bill in Marion County to include sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class won in the City-Council by just one vote. For over 10 years the Indiana State legislature tried to pass state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. And when same-sex marriage finally became legal in Indiana, RFRA was introduced because those same right-wingers couldn't tolerate the fact that they were on the wrong side of history.

During the battle against the ban on same-sex marriage, Dr. William Buffie published a paper titled "Public Health Implications of Same-Sex Marriage."

Part of his abstract reads:

Significantly compromised health care delivery and adverse health outcomes are well documented for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the United States compared with the population at large. LGBT individuals subject to societal prejudice in a heterosexist world also suffer from the phenomenon known as "minority stress," with its attendant negative mental and physical health effects.

When the legislature was holding hearings for HJR-3, I watched the faces of many of the gay and lesbian people around me. I watched as they heard the people in the House and Senate chambers testify that they could not possibly raise children properly. Later, I saw the outrage on Facebook and Twitter when RFRA was being discussed. Three thousand people attended a rally at the Statehouse in protest. How could these people not be emotionally affected all these years as legislator after legislator has tried to turn them into second-class citizens?

During the RFRA blow-up, Pence stated that "making gay and lesbian Indiana residents a protected legal class is 'not on my agenda.' " He was recently was asked if there is still a need to do more in terms of protections statewide for gays and lesbians. He answered by saying, "I think our economy speaks for itself. Our economy is strong and growing stronger." He later said, "We'll leave debates about the future for the future." A spokeswoman for the governor followed up later saying that the governor is studying the issue of equal rights. She said, "He is listening to Hoosiers and has an open mind."

I am trying to be positive. However, can't help being cynical. I don't believe the governor has a very good track record regarding LGBT rights. And we haven't even scratched the surface regarding the effect that RFRA has on women, African-Americans, immigrants and other minorities.

What LGBT Hoosiers clearly need is a comprehensive civil rights bill that will give them the protections they so badly need. My hope is that legislators on both sides of the aisle will agree to support such a bill. Consequently, Hoosiers need to contact their legislators and tell them why this bill is important. We cannot continue to allow our leaders to treat our LGBT friends and loved ones so shabbily. Lastly, I send a message to Mike Pence. Rather than expecting the citizens you claim to care about to foot the bill for your mistakes, pull up your big-boy pants, admit your mistakes and try to rectify them in a dignified and respectful manner, instead of making claims that put you in a good light.