By Chris Paulsen
I’m as disappointed as you are that the Indiana General Assembly failed this session to update our state civil rights law to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination in Indiana.
It was a missed opportunity to do the right thing for Hoosiers, and there was no good reason not to take action. But even as we vent our frustrations that lawmakers did nothing to show our state is a safe, welcoming place for LGBT people, we should also reflect on all we have accomplished over the past three years.
The pundits and politicians said in 2013 there was little chance of defeating a proposed amendment to the Indiana Constitution banning same-sex marriage. In the 2014 session, we proved them wrong.
Later that year, a district court and then a federal circuit court ruled same-sex marriage legal in our state. Tens of thousands of loving, committed Hoosier couples, including my wife and I, were finally able to legally wed, and we had marriage equality on the books a full year before it became the law of the land in the United States.
But then we let our guard down.
The 2015 legislative session started with just a few whispers about a proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would permit discrimination against gay and transgender people in our state. But our allies told us pragmatic lawmakers in leadership would never consider such a thing. The whispers became a buzz. The buzz became noise. The noise became RFRA. RFRA became a national and international disaster for Indiana’s reputation.
Freedom Indiana was there during that fight. We sounded the alarm. But because our campaign had gone dormant following the marriage amendment fight, it always felt like we were a couple steps behind the architects of the dangerous, discriminatory RFRA.
In the end, lawmakers were forced to “fix” a bad bill, and more Hoosiers than ever before realized it’s perfectly legal to fire someone or deny them housing or service because of who they are or whom they love. Unfortunately, because of inaction this legislative session, that’s still the case in most parts of our state.
If there’s any silver lining to the General Assembly’s failure to act, it’s that cities and towns, as they did in the months following RFRA, are working to enact local nondiscrimination protections for LGBT residents and visitors. These communities understand this is quality of life issue for gay and transgender people, and it’s an economic development tool they can use to recruit and retain jobs.
But it’s not enough.
Local protections for sexual orientation and gender identity only cover 24 percent of Hoosiers. It’s wonderful I can live and work in Indianapolis with legal recourse against discrimination, but if I drive 30 miles in any direction outside of Marion County, chances are I’m not protected.
That’s why we’re not giving up – and not letting our guard down.
We know the only way to make it clear our state welcomes all is to update our civil rights law in the next session, and we take House and Senate leaders at their word they want to spearhead that charge instead of having it decided in the courts. We also know we still have work to do to make sure all Hoosiers understand that right now, discrimination against LGBT people is legal.
Freedom Indiana isn’t going away or going into hibernation until the next session. We’re going to work throughout the remainder of this year to educate Hoosiers about the threat of discrimination and why our laws need to be updated. We’ll also continue to be a resource for any community who wants our help drafting or passing a local human rights ordinance.
I’m proud of all we’ve accomplished together, and I want to personally thank you for your support. I know if we keep up our efforts, we’ll be successful next year.
Chris Paulsen is campaign manager for Freedom Indiana (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.