Religious freedom, anti-LGBT sentiment, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity were only some of the issues Freedom Indiana grappled with this week. The national implications of so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts are made clear in HRC’s 2016 preview of anti-LGBT state and local legislation.
Human Rights Campaign staff was on the ground in Indiana to strategize with Freedom Indiana. HRC Associate Regional Director Rowe and I were honored to spend time with these high quality and energized activists. Freedom Indiana is a coalition of the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal.
Tuesday, Katie Blair, Deputy Campaign Manager for Freedom Indiana, served as host for Freedom Indiana’s rally and watch party for 150 Hoosiers in preparation for Gov. Mike Pence State of the State address.
Despite hopes for a more conciliatory tone towards LGBT Hoosiers, Gov. Pence punted during his speech, failing to clearly call for fully inclusive non-discrimination protections for all LGBT Hoosiers and visitors.
"I will not support any bill that diminishes the religious freedom of Hoosiers or that interferes with the constitutional rights of our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service or work,” he said. Pence further stated Indiana is already "an open and welcoming state that respects everyone . . . that no one should be harassed or mistreated because of who they are, who they love, or what they believe."
Wednesday night, Danyelle Ditmer, faith organizer for Freedom Indiana, sponsored a workshop on letter writing and the value of sharing one’s personal story. Rowe encouraged participants to “remember – you have two stories, the story you share with your legislator that helps them remember the face and the family at risk when they push their button to vote, and the story of why you were moved to take action—which many of your neighbors and fellow church members really need to hear right now.”
Also this week, Rowe and I met with eleven of the twelve members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (IBLC). We discussed with the caucus members the opportunity “to see beyond the ruse of religious freedom being in jeopardy, but recognize such bills for what they are; instruments of discrimination cloaked in a religious guise to serve as a wedge issue among marginalized communities.” Senator Lonnie Randolph, Chairman of the IBLC and Vice –Chairman Rep. Cherrish Pryor queried the presenters on a number of issues, including hate crimes.
Longstanding legislator and IBLC member, Senator Earline Rogers, after hearing our presentation, asked for a commitment to specific action items the Black Caucus could take to support full inclusion in Indiana’s non-discrimination laws.
After a moment of quiet discussion on the procedural process, Senator Rodgers shouted, “Well, can I at least get an Amen?”