For the past week, the City of Goshen, Indiana has been a hot-bed of debate about whether the City Council should grant civil protections to its LGBT citizens. Goshen mayor Allan Kauffman brought up the conversation at the end of the city council meeting on Tuesday, May 19, handing out copies of the city's 2009 failed amendment.
"He said that given the ongoing conversation regarding the LGBTQ community and what protections cities in Indiana are working to provide to them, revisiting the amendment was something he thought the council should do."
Mayor Kauffman also said that he does not want anyone who lives outside of the city to provide input at the meeting. That can be a problem for Eric Miller, executive director of Advance America, a right-wing organization that claims it is devoted to protecting the constitution and the family.
On Tuesday, July 14, Miller spoke to a crowd of about 100 people at Calvary Assembly church. He stated that, "The homosexual agenda has now come to Elkhart County. These two ordinances (Goshen and Elkhart) are wrong. These two ordinances need to be defeated."
Eric Miller has long been a foe of LGBT Hoosiers. He was one of the proponents to have same-sex marriage banned in Indiana by way of a state constitutional amendment. He testified at every hearing at the Statehouse in order to push his agenda. He also was present in 2005 when the Marion County City Council debated inserting sexual orientation and gender identity into their Human Rights Ordinance. He was one of the people seen with Governor Pence when Pence signed RFRA behind closed doors.
Eric Miller claims that he is trying to protect families. He falsely claims that churches and businesses could face punishment or legal problems if they refused to take part in a gay marriage ceremony. We know these are scare tactics. Miller warns repeatedly of the "homosexual agenda."
Miller is well-dressed and seems fairly mild. But behind his quiet demeanor lurks hatred and homophobia. He uses religion to push his agenda. He has been known to bus people from all over the state to hearings on same-sex marriage and LGBT equality.
Miller uses words to make his points. But words hurt -- just as much as violence can hurt. So my question is -- where does this go? Last week we saw an Orthodox Jewish man stab six people at the Jerusalem Pride Parade. What makes this offense even more horrific is that Yishai Shlissel had just gotten out of jail 3 weeks prior for stabbing three people at a Pride Parade in Tel Aviv in 2005. He was sentenced for 12 years, but got out at 10. No sooner did he get released than he took his religious extremism out on 6 innocent victims. One of those victims died -- 16-year-old Shira Banki died of stab wounds. She had gone to the Pride Parade to support her LGBT friends.
When I learned of Shira's death, my heart broke. She was a young, beautiful girl who had her entire life ahead of her. She marched in the parade because she supported her friends and she supported equality.
There is no excuse for killing anyone in the name of religion. And there is no excuse for telling lies and mistruths in the name of religion. When I look at people like Eric Miller, I get scared. He may not be wielding a knife or a gun, but his words can have an impact on those who believe them. Words have been known to lead people to do dangerous things. How far will people go? I cannot imagine going to any house of worship to listen to words of hatred and discrimination.
Indiana is at a crossroads. The LGBT community has more allies than ever. And those allies are more than willing to help their family members, friends and co-workers obtain the full civil rights that they deserve. How will Eric Miller and his associates react? What will they say to stop LGBT Hoosiers from gaining these rights? What ideas will they put in peoples' heads?
We have to be vigilant. Not only do we have to write letters and speak with our legislators -- we have to call out the religious zealots who will deny our friends and loved ones the rights they deserve. We need to talk to our religious leaders -- those clergy who support equality and fairness. We need to urge them to call out people who hurt others in the name of religion.
I have watched Eric Miller and his friends Curt Smith (from the Indiana Family Institute) and Micah Clark (from the American Family Association of Indiana) for the past ten years as they push their messages of discrimination. It is about time we call them out and not allow them to hijack the good that religion really is. Religious extremism is dangerous -- whether by using knives and guns -- or by using words.