By Chris Paulsen
I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to start a new year and put 2015 behind us.
Last year wound up being a disastrous one for our state’s reputation after lawmakers approved the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which essentially created a license to discriminate against LGBT people.
Within hours after the Governor signed the bill into law, Indiana became an epicenter of negative national publicity, a state maligned as anti-gay by corporate leaders, celebrities, athletes, faith leaders and public servants.
It felt awful.
How could these elected officials – elected to serve everyone – have approved language that would allow Hoosiers to use faith as a weapon against gay and transgender people?
The backlash was immediate, and lawmakers knew they had to do something. So they passed a “fix” to the RFRA law making it specifically clear it could not be used to discriminate against LGBT people.
The reality: It didn’t fix much, but it did shine a light on the fact you can be fired or turned away from housing or public places for who you are or whom you love.
In the nine months since RFRA, public polling has shown a steady increase in support for updating Indiana’s civil rights law to include gay and transgender people.
One recent poll, by veteran Republican pollster Christine Mathews, showed 62 percent of Hoosiers want to see those protections enacted in the next legislative session.
But that same poll also showed more than 70 percent of Hoosiers think this kind of discrimination is already illegal.
In other words, people want to make sure our laws protect LGBT people from discrimination, but they also think it is already the case.
As we head into the legislative session, and things start really heating up, we need to change that.
Whether you identify as LGBT or you’re an ally, we need to be doing everything we can to make it clear discrimination is real and legal right now in our state – and it has to be fixed.
Senate leadership introduced Senate Bill 100 in November as a starting point for this conversation. I want to take this opportunity to share with you a little more information on that piece of legislation and how it needs to change to provide actual protections for LGBT people in Indiana.
As drafted, Senate Bill 100 would treat discrimination against LGBT people differently than racial, age, or sex discrimination under the civil rights law. The bill essentially creates a second-class citizenship for LGBT people, and that’s wrong.
Senate Bill 100 currently operates with a very narrow legal definition of the term “transgender” that would not protect thousands of transgender people in the most vulnerable circumstances.
The religious exceptions and exemptions in Senate Bill 100 go further than the original RFRA law by allowing legal discrimination against LGBT Hoosiers. This should go without saying, but no one wants our state to go through RFRA 2.0.
Senate Bill 100 would preempt existing local ordinances protecting Hoosiers from discrimination in their communities and would prevent local elected officials from offering additional protections in the future.
Indianapolis recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of updating its human rights ordinance to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” That ordinance and dozens of others across the state would be erased under Senate Bill 100.
Finally, Senate Bill 100 puts in place dangerous legal barriers that would discourage discrimination claims of all types statewide. We don’t want to make it harder for the victims of discrimination to seek recourse.
The ultimate outcome of the 2016 legislative session has to be a strong statement letting people know Indiana will not tolerate discrimination.
With your help at the Statehouse, we can make our New Year’s resolution – making sure our state is open and safe for everyone who wants to live here or visit – come true. Thanks for your support!
Chris Paulsen is campaign manager for Freedom Indiana (www.freedomindiana.org), a statewide grassroots campaign working to update Indiana’s civil rights law to protect gay and transgender Hoosiers from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.