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BREAKING: 7th Circuit Rules in Favor of Employment Non-Discrimination Protections

A federal court with jurisdiction over Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin just ruled in favor of employment nondiscrimination protections for gay and lesbian workers—and we have a Hoosier to thank for it.

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The U.S. Appeals Court for the Seventh Circuit affirmed today that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects workers from being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. The landmark ruling comes in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, with the Court finding 8-3 that Ivy Tech illegally discriminated against Kimberly Hively when they denied her full-time employment because she is a lesbian.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is the highest court to ever rule on this issue and could send shockwaves through the legal system. But the case would have never been heard in the first place if this brave Hoosier and her legal team at Lambda Legal had not fought back when faced with discrimination.

She deserves our thanks. Click here to sign our card congratulating Kimberly and her legal team for today’s historic victory.

Chris Paulsen, Freedom Indiana’s campaign manager, congratulated Kimberly on today’s monumental victory and noted that the fight for LGBT equality in Indiana is far from over:

“We congratulate Kimberly Hively for speaking up and fighting back when she faced discrimination. Because of Kimberly’s bravery, lesbian and gay Hoosiers are closer today to securing protections from discrimination in the workplace. This is an important step that affirms so much of what we’ve been fighting for over the last few years.”

“But this is by no means the end of the road—in fact, our work to secure comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for all Hoosiers is now more important and more urgent. We believe in an Indiana where everyone—regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity—can go about their day without fear of discrimination. Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to Indiana’s civil rights law is the best way to achieve that reality, and we’re moving forward with more determination than ever before.”

Passing comprehensive statewide nondiscrimination protections are still critically important. That’s because today’s ruling, while transformative, only bars employment discrimination for gay and lesbian workers who fall under the 7th Circuit’s jurisdiction. Discrimination in housing and public accommodations—as well as employment discrimination against transgender Hoosiers—are unaffected by the ruling.

Adding four words and a comma—“sexual orientation, gender identity”—to our existing civil rights law is still the best way to ensure all Hoosiers are protected.

If you agree, sign our letter to lawmakers urging them to take action during the 2017 legislative session.

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Court rules Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation

April 4, 2017 by admin

INDIANAPOLIS — The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act does in fact protect individuals from workplace discrimination based on their sexual orientation. The ruling comes from a lawsuit filed by Kimberly Hively. In it, Hively alleges that Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend refused to hire her simply because she is a lesbian.

Chris Paulsen, campaign manager of Freedom Indiana, released the following statement regarding today’s ruling:

“This is a welcome decision for anyone who has ever been denied a job simply because of who they are. While today’s ruling should give LGBT Hoosiers hope, we still have a long way to go before Indiana truly treats all of its residents equally and fairly under the law. That’s because the state’s 2015 RFRA law still allows discrimination against Hoosiers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations. This is wrong. We at Freedom Indiana will continue our efforts to protect the state’s LGBT population from discrimination.” 

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Freedom Indiana marks the 7th Annual Transgender Day of Visibility

March 31, 2017 by admin

INDIANAPOLIS — People across the world are recognizing Transgender Day of Visibility today. The annual observance was created to honor and celebrate the contributions transgender people make, while at the same time to shine a light on the very real challenges and discrimination transgender people face.

“Indiana’s transgender community has enriched our state in ways that is too often overlooked,” Chris Paulsen, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, said. “The Transgender Day of Visibility is the perfect opportunity to recognize the important contributions transgender Hoosiers have made to our state, and also reaffirm our commitment to protecting Indian’s transgender community from discrimination.”

The past year has been a year of heartache and important victories for the state’s transgender community. In February, the Trump Administration rescinded an Obama-era guidance protecting transgender students under Title IX, which instructed schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. Despite Trump’s recension, communities across Indiana took important steps to protect their transgender people, including Tippecanoe County and the City of Lafayette. Both of these municipalities adopted laws to extend nondiscrimination protections to citizens based on their gender identity.

“Freedom Indiana is proud to work on behalf of transgender people, and we are committed to continue our efforts to protect them and their families from discrimination,” Paulsen added.

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For Transgender Day of Visibility, Two Hoosiers Speak Out About Indiana’s Lack of Non-discrimination Protections

March 31, 2017 by admin

Today, transgender people and allies in Indiana and across the country will recognize Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV).

Since its inception in 2010, TDOV has been a day for highlighting the life stories of transgender people—ensuring that they are “visible” in society—while also calling attention to the many hurdles to living a full and free life that they still face. This year, many transgender people and allies are even doing that online, under the hashtag #EveryoneWelcome.


In Indiana, one major hurdle is the state’s lack of LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections. That’s why two Hoosiers—Jayce Koenn and Hannah Winter—are speaking up today, using their day of visibility to call attention to Indiana’s lack of protections.

Jayce is a third-year student at IUPUI pursuing a double major in International Studies and Japanese. Jayce identifies as non-binary (or not exclusively masculine or feminine) and uses the pronouns “they and them.” Jayce says it’s important that people like them are portrayed publicly, since seeing being exposed to someone like them can give hope to other non-binary people.

“Positive representation is important to me because it can be an answer to those of all generations. It gives you a person to relate to, someone to make you feel less lonely in a heteronormative world.”

Hannah, who also identifies as non-binary, is a student at Ball State University majoring in environmental science and minoring in political science. Hannah says that transgender visibility helps people understand the challenges transgender people deal with—which builds support for non-discrimination protections.

“Trans visibility is important to me because more people need to understand that trans people exist and people need to know and understand the struggles that trans people deal with daily. When I am in queer spaces it is the only time I can feel safe enough to be who I really am.”

Both Jayce and Hannah said that the importance of having a statewide LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination law is mainly about safety. Jayce says that even though they know discrimination can still happen, having the law on their side is powerful.

“Nondiscrimination is important for my safety and well being. Even though I know that discrimination will still happen, knowing that my government is behind me is important. Words—and policies—are powerful.” –Jayce Koenn 

For Hannah, an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination law would mean feeling safe in public spaces. Hannah says they frequently feel unsafe being out in public—which makes speaking out today a major milestone for them.

“I am afraid to be out in a lot of spaces, especially in my career field. I would like to be able to live my full truth, and be who I am without having to hide parts of myself to get a job or move forward in my field. Non-discrimination matters to me because there are a lot of people in my personal life that I am afraid to be myself around.” –Hannah Winter

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New Ohio River Valley Pride Coalition Experiences Record Growth, Thanks to the Dedication of Its Three Founders

March 28, 2017 by admin

The Ohio River Valley Pride Coalition (ORVPRIDE) is southern Indiana’s fastest-growing new LGBT advocacy group, thanks to three local women whose efforts to support their own children spurred them to create a similar space for LGBT youth.

Two of the group’s co-founders, Oretha Vest and Shelly Eldridge-Snyder, have children who are transgender. The third co-founder, Amanda Vinup-Noell, is bisexual and has a cousin who is gay. All have seen firsthand the discrimination their loved ones faced in school, in the community, and, unfortunately from other family members. They wanted to make sure any other children who were going through similar situations had a place where they felt accepted.

“I know our mission will be a successful one. We’ve already seen a great number of LGBTQIA individuals and allies reach out to us and want to be a part of this in its short span of existence. I like to think they know just how hard the 3 co-founders will fight for them, not just because we believe in human rights but also because we are the mothers of LGBTQIA children ourselves, and there’s only one thing worse than facing down a mother bear protecting her cubs and that’s facing down three!” –Oretha Vest, ORVPRIDE Co-Founder

“For the most part his usual sphere of friends have been supportive, but he has had more than one altercation while trying to use the boys’ bathroom,” said Oretha, describing what her son goes through on a daily basis. “He has been verbally and physically accosted. He has been pushed and called names. I always encourage him to report these students to his counselor but I know sometimes fear of revenge makes him wait to report it until it has escalated to the brink of imminent harm to himself.”

“It’s my deepest hope that ORVPRIDE will grow and become the interconnected support system between the local LGBTQIA community and small town America that we have all needed for a very long time.” –Amanda Vinup-Noell, ORVPRIDE Co-Founder

Shelly’s daughter, who is now grown and came out as an adult, nevertheless experienced some of the same things at her school. And when Shelly started to read about some of the challenges transgender people face, she knew she had to help other kids.

“I wept. I knew I had to help somehow,” she said. “Its infuriating, knowing that many things in her life will be more difficult because she is trans. Things we take for granted, like going to the women’s restroom. My goal is to change that for future trans kids and their parents. Not only trans individuals, but all LBGTQI people.”

Oretha, Shelly and Amanda have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Thirty people attended the group’s first official meeting in February, and since then each meeting has been similarly packed with LGBT young people, sharing their stories and finding community in a place where LGBT issues don’t usually get much public attention. ORVPRIDE even has official non-profit status as well as a presence in three states and 18 counties.

“We witnessed amazing things, kids and adults alike opening up in a safe place they were able to be themselves and take their walls down. It was so amazing to watch unfold and also sad that we live in an area that has beat them down at every turn.” –Shelly Eldridge-Snyder, ORVPRIDE Co-Founder

“We witnessed amazing things, kids and adults alike opening up in a safe place they were able to be themselves and take their walls down,” Shelly said. “It was so amazing to watch unfold and also sad that we live in an area that has beat them down at every turn. It made me realize just how hard it’s been on them growing up here.”

Adam Colen, an 18-year-old senior, agrees that it’s been hard. He says the group has really helped him cope with being transgender in a small town.

“I think living in a small town is an unique experience by itself because of just how much people know each other, but for trans kids, this can make it extremely difficult to get the respect you not only want, but deserve.” –Adam Colen, ORVPRIDE Member

“I think living in a small town is an unique experience by itself because of just how much people know each other, but for trans kids, this can make it extremely difficult to get the respect you not only want, but deserve,” he said. “I feel very outcast in most settings, especially at school because I do get the label of ‘the trans kid’, but while at ORVPRIDE, it’s a literal hug with open arms. They care about you as a person.”

The ORVPRIDE is growing by the day, and always welcoming new members. If you’re interested in joining, the group’s next meeting will be a pride march and family picnic on April 1st at noon in Arch Street Park, in Lawrenceburg.  

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Hoosier Universities & Colleges Stand Out for Supporting Transgender Students

March 16, 2017 by admin

As the national conversation coalesces around transgender non-discrimination policies—and specifically, how those policies impact transgender students—many schools have been making a point to reiterate their commitment to equal treatment.

In this regard, Indiana’s top post-secondary institutions stand out. Most explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression, and some even go several steps further.

Indiana’s two largest public university systems, Indiana University and Purdue University, both have broad policies that prohibit discriminating against “any member of the University community” (Purdue) and say the schools must “recruit, hire, promote, educate, and provide services” (IU) without regard to a person’s gender identity. IU’s policy also goes beyond merely prohibiting discrimination, and commits the University to taking “positive” action to help students “overcome the discriminatory effects of traditional policies and procedures.”

Smaller public institutions, like Ball State University, Indiana State University and the University of Southern Indiana also have expansive non-discrimination policies.

ISU’s Vice President for Student Affairs, Willie Banks Jr., said that the Trump Administration’s rollback of guidance on how transgender students should be treated under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 specifically pushed the University to publicize its policy more widely.  

“No matter how the political winds shift, Indiana State stands for inclusion. We offer support to our diverse student body, so they feel connected to their communities and can thrive on campus and academically. Further, we aim to enhance intercultural competency and actively work with and for all Indiana State students to embrace our differences.”ISU VP for Student Affairs Willie Banks Jr.

Indiana’s top private universities are also making transgender non-discrimination a priority. DePauw, Butler, the University of Indianapolis and the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology all explicitly prohibit gender identity discrimination in their student handbooks.

The University of Evansville goes even further to protect transgender students by providing gender neutral housing:

“The University is committed to providing realistic and supportive options for gender neutral housing. This can be beneficial for students in the process of discovering and developing their identity with respect to sex, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. This also adds to the diversity of the University of Evansville residential experience.” –University of Evansville Gender Neutral Housing Policy

Evansville’s Chief Diversity Officer LaNeeça Williams said that promoting diversity is a “fundamental component” of the school’s commitment to academic excellence.

“Through mindful collaboration, diligence, and dialog, the University of Evansville continues to try and create and withstand a diverse learning community, one in which we can model leadership that moves us beyond tolerance, but instead to an understanding of our global humanity and a respect for diversity and all of its facets. This includes the thoughtfulness and consideration of a person’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else as well allowing campus members to communicate through their behavior who they want to be, all while celebrating our differences.” –Evansville University Chief Diversity Officer LaNeeça Williams

Freedom Indiana commends our state’s institutions of higher learning for their commitment to fostering an inclusive, welcoming environment for transgender students.

However, students shouldn’t lose these critical protections when they step off campus. That’s why it’s important for cities and the state as a whole to pass comprehensive, LGBT-inclusive civil rights laws that protect all Hoosiers from discrimination, regardless of their gender identity.

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A Statewide Hate Crimes Law Would Mean Justice for LGBT Hoosiers Like Abby, Who Was Harassed for Being Transgender

March 15, 2017 by admin

LGBT Hoosiers and allies, including the NAACP of Indiana, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Muslim Alliance and the ACLU of Indiana, convened at the capitol this afternoon to urge lawmakers to pass a comprehensive hate crimes law.

If the legislation advances, Indiana would join 45 other states in sending the message that targeting individuals for violence because of who they are is simply wrong.

It would also mean that transgender Hoosiers like Abby Paden, could finally seek justice for the vicious crimes they are disproportionately victims of.

Last year, Paden discovered that a hateful message attacking her for being transgender had been scrawled across her parking space at her apartment complex. Soon, the neighbor who left the message escalated the attacks, physically confronting Paden and verbally harassing her.

She took her concerns to the apartment complex manager, who urged her to call the police. But because Indiana has no hate crimes law or civil rights protections for LGBT people, there was not much police could do. Abby eventually moved away from Speedway because of the repeated harassment.

Paden said that passing a hate crimes law, in addition to giving police the tools they need to stop criminals, would allow her to feel respected in her community—something she says is lacking because of Indiana’s dearth of legal protections.

“That would give us a lot more respect. It would also portray us as human beings because I don’t think we’re even getting that now.” —Abby Paden

LGBT Hoosiers like Abby suffer on a daily basis, and can’t wait much longer for lawmakers to do the right thing and pass a hate crimes law that protects people like her.

The need for hate crimes laws is well established—that’s why 45 other states have such laws, and why the nation’s top law enforcement groups, like the National Sheriffs’ Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, support them.

And with hate crimes on the rise against LGBT people and other vulnerable populations in Indiana and across the country, the need for this legislation has never been more apparent.

Lawmakers can fix this situation right now. If you agree that it’s time for Indiana to modernize its laws and better protect all Hoosiers from violence, click here to send a message to lawmakers urging them to support a comprehensive hate crimes bill.

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Mom Of Transgender Daughter Spurs New LGBT Advocacy Group Taking Root In Southern Indiana

March 3, 2017 by admin

What started as a mother’s attempt to ensure that her transgender daughter felt welcomed and accepted in their community has now blossomed into a multi-county advocacy group that serves LGBT residents across the Ohio River Valley—the Ohio River Valley Pride Coalition.

Shelly Snyder is a mom on a mission. Three years ago her daughter, Gwyneth, came out as transgender. That moment, Shelly said, lifted “a ton of bricks” off of Gwyneth’s shoulders. But although her daughter seemed finally at peace with who she really was, some of that weight had been transferred to Shelly.

The more Shelly learned about who transgender people are, and the challenges they face just for being who they are, the more she worried. The statistics she read were jarring: 1 in 12 transgender women are murdered. They’re the number-one victims of hate crimes. Forty-one percent of LGBT youth attempt suicide.

“I wept. I knew I had to help somehow,” she said. “Its infuriating, knowing that many things in her life will be more difficult because she is trans. Things we take for granted, like going to the women’s restroom. My goal is to change that for future trans kids and their parents. Not only trans individuals, but all LBGTQI people.”

So Shelly started reaching out, hoping to infuse some new energy into the local Dearborn Pride Alliance, whose Facebook page she had been managing. She organized a meet and greet at her home in Bright, Indiana, but initially, the call for attendees attracted few people, mostly locals from her small community just north of Lawrenceburg.

But after a local radio station found the Alliance and published a piece about the group in its online news section, interest exploded. Ultimately, 30 attendees made it to the first meeting on February 18th, and since then, interest in the group has continued to surge.

One of those attendees was Carter, who is also transgender. For him, talking with other transgender young people was a revelation, especially hearing from other kids about the bullying they face—something he’s unfortunately experienced. He left the meeting inspired, and feeling accepted.

“For anyone that is having trouble or thinks they are the only ones in this world,” he said. “Remember you are not alone and change is about to happen to this world. No one is going to be left behind anymore.”

Another attendee was Sam, who said he was nervous at first, opening up about his identity to a group of strangers. Ultimately, though, the group made him feel more safe than he had in a long time. Now, he’s inspired to keep speaking out.

“Really fast it was clear that the environment was accepting and full of love,” he said. “I felt really at home at the meeting, and it was one of the first times in a long while that I felt relaxed and safe. I’m really excited to make progress within the community and see what we can do to make things better.”

Now, the Alliance is re-styling itself as the Ohio River Valley Pride Coalition and has officially filed for nonprofit status. Shelly hopes that as a nonprofit, the Coalition will be better able to advocate for LGBT people across the tri-state area.

“We have big plans for our conservative community,” Shelly says. “We are here to open hearts and knock down closet doors forever.”

The newly energized group’s first order of business has been to petition local school boards to consider adding more LGBT support groups in schools. The Coalition is currently working with residents in Jefferson and Franklin Counties who are interested in bringing more emphasis on LGBT issues to their communities. They’re also calling and emailing state representatives, urging them to repeal RFRA and pass hate crimes legislation that protects LGBT Hoosiers.

Shelly drew her initial inspiration for forming the group from her daughter, and the direction of the Coalition’s advocacy came from Gwyneth, too. Gwyneth wishes there had been an LGBT alliance in her school when she was growing up. If there had been, Gwyneth says she would have felt more accepting of herself as a transgender person, and maybe she would have transitioned sooner.

Because she didn’t have that support system as a younger student, Gwyneth says she didn’t accept herself as transgender until she went to college at Purdue—although she knew, from a very young age that living as a boy felt wrong. At college, she met other transgender people and finally started to live as her authentic self.

Gwyneth says that thanks to changing times—and to her trailblazing mom—more LGBT young people today are able to live openly in the way she wasn’t.

“My mother has been my biggest supporter,” she said. “I’ve never been so proud and inspired by someone as I am of her right now. She’s taken a more active role in creating change. No one should have to live in fear or be alone and without any kind of support system.”

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Physicians to Lawmakers: Transgender Hoosiers Deserve Compassion, Not Discriminatory Legislation

February 27, 2017 by admin

A group of Indianapolis-area physicians are coming together to educate lawmakers about the issues and challenges faced by transgender Hoosiers.

This afternoon, the group collaborated with Freedom Indiana and the Indiana Transgender Wellness Alliance to deliver a letter of support for the transgender community to every member of the Indiana General Assembly.

The letter, signed by seven physicians as well as Jacqueline Patterson, executive director of the Indiana Transgender Wellness Alliance, urges lawmakers to consider transgender issues with “dignity, respect, and compassion,” and to turn away from discriminatory legislation:

“It is abundantly evident to anyone involved with transgender individuals that they suffer unimaginable challenges, which most of us would hate to have to confront. Yet also evident is that a little empathy and compassion go a long way in helping them find the peace and acceptance that we can only wish for all of our friends and family.

The physicians also lauded the growth in the amount of public attention being paid to transgender issues, especially in the medical field. They cite as an example the Transgender Health Conference, which was held last July at the University of Indianapolis. That event, which was hosted by the IU School of Medicine and Eskenazi Health, brought together 300 hospital administrators, health care providers, social workers and transgender individuals to simply learn more about what it means to be transgender, and to collaborate on addressing issues that affect transgender patients.

Another Transgender Health Conference will take place at Eskenazi Hospital, in conjunction with Indiana University School of Medicine and the Office of Diversity affairs, on March 10th.

The physicians were inspired to send today’s letter by House Bill 1361, which would have made it impossible for transgender Hoosiers to correct their birth certificates and other identity documents to match the gender they live every day. The letter celebrated the fact that the bill did not appear to be headed for a legislative hearing—a move, they said, that could have kept transgender patients from accessing care and doctors from being able treat patients comprehensively.

The law, they said, should seek to support transgender patients and physicians, so they can continue to make advances in medicine and patient care:

“Medical knowledge is constantly evolving. We now understand LGBTQ issues in ways never thought possible just a few decades ago. Hospitals and medical practices understanding of the complexities of gender identity and sexual orientation are making headway educating the medical community and offering sensitivity training to their staff.”

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Depts. of Justice, Education rescind guidance protecting transgender students

February 23, 2017 by admin

INDIANAPOLIS — Last night, the Departments of Justice and Education rescinded a 2016 guidance that instructed schools to protect transgender students from discrimination. Though not legally binding, the guidance was based on legal precedence. It instructed schools on how to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and directed them to allow transgender students access to restrooms that align with their gender identity.

Chris Paulsen, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, released the following statement regarding the recension: 

“Freedom Indiana is disappointed by the actions taken by the Departments of Justice and Education. Every student deserves a fair chance to succeed in school in order to prepare for the future, including our transgender students. 

“Transgender students, like all students, want to receive their education in a environment that is safe, fair and conducive to learning. The 2016 guidance was intended to ensure just that. 

“While last night’s recension was disappointing, it is important to remember that transgender students protections under the requirements of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex. Federal laws that are used to protect transgender students have not changed, and school districts across the country must still comply with the law. 

“Freedom Indiana will continue to work with local school systems to help insure that transgender students are treated fairly and given the best opportunity to succeed.”

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Three Hoosiers on Gender Identity and How Their Families Were a Source of Acceptance and Stability

February 17, 2017 by admin

Family is a core source of social support—and perhaps the most important. And it can be especially important for transgender or other gender nonconforming people, both adults and youth, in a state like Indiana, where full equality under the law is still out of reach.

To have a home where equality is a given, rather than something that has to be fought for, can make the difference between feeling accepted and feeling outcast.

Marty Clinch and his family moved to Indiana when he was a freshman in high school. Before that, he lived in a small college town where both of his parents were professors. He describes his home life as somewhat sheltered from what reality can be like for a person who doesn’t conform to traditional gender norms.

“It was such a shock moving to a more conservative area—at least to me—after staying in my home bubble for so long. While Indianapolis feels like an oasis to me as a trans person and artist, I’ve still seen plenty of bias and discrimination, out in the ‘wild’ and online.”

Home didn’t quite feel like a “bubble” to Southwell Cowper. Southwell knew even as a child that they didn’t fit comfortably into a traditional gender identity, though their family never spoke explicitly about it.

But Southwell’s mom, Lynette, knew something was different about her child. One day, when Southwell was small, the two were watching a show on PBS about an Indian girl who claimed to be the reincarnation of a man from the neighboring town. Southwell told Lynette they knew how the girl felt—because Southwell also felt that way: Like they had been reincarnated from a man. That was Lynette’s first inkling that something might be a bit different about Southwell.

Lynette continued to be supportive as Southwell presented less and less as a traditional girl. Other parents questioned why Lynette “allowed” Southwell to cut her hair short, or wear boyish clothes, but Lynette tried to shield Southwell from these comments as much as possible.

“Every time I turned around, there was someone policing my child’s self-presentation and criticizing me for not doing so. In high school, South wanted men’s underwear. We went and bought some. The body police never knew, but I got complaints about boyish clothes and lack of dresses, though South wore dresses and skirts when they were in the mood.”

By that point most people had labeled Southwell as a tomboy—including Southwell. Even though their family had been accepting about the fact that Southwell didn’t conform to strict gender norms, none of them had the vocabulary to describe someone whose gender identity didn’t match the gender they were assigned at birth.

“I grew up weirdly uncomfortable with my gender with no way to explain that, literally not even the base level concepts to begin to understand it within myself. As a pre-teen, I insisted to all of my friends that I wasn’t a girl, I was tomboy. This was the closest I ever got to explaining it before learning the language around it.”

Southwell eventually got the vocabulary from a documentary they watched during a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting at school.

“It was mind blowing. And it felt more relatable, gender-wise, than anything else I had run across to that date. It complicated things, including my still-fresh ideas about my not-straight sexuality, but it also simplified things. It was like slipping into a pair of jeans made perfectly for me that I had had all my life and just never known about it before.”

At 20, Southwell nervously let their parents know they were non-binary—by slipping a note onto their bed. Southwell was accepted wholeheartedly by their parents, but it was a different story when they came out publicly. Someone told the elders at the family’s church, and the elders approached Lynette. For a moment Southwell thought they made a mistake in coming out.

“I was worried this would be the breaking point, that maybe I had made a critical error in deciding to be open. Instead of my worst fears happening, my mom stood up for me.  She became my staunchest ally, my greatest defender. She’s been beside me, criticizing every person who has dared to question my existence ever since, even when I wasn’t there to watch.”

A lack of vocabulary growing up was also a problem for Chrissy Garrison, a transgender woman who lives in Indianapolis with her wife of 12 years, Amy. But unlike Southwell, Chrissy didn’t have PBS documentaries or a Gay-Straight Alliance to broaden her worldview. She confided her feelings in a few friends until she met Amy, who knew right away that Chrissy was transgender and accepted her fully, including the idea that someday Chrissy might transition.

Amy’s daughter Sarah moved in with her and Chrissy in 2007. Sarah had been living in a bubble of a different sort—rural Texas, where gender identity wasn’t a concept that had ever been discussed with her before.

Chrissy was unsure whether to come out to Sarah. She feared Sarah might not understand, or be bullied at school if her friends found out her stepmother was transgender. And there was an even worse fear: that Amy might lose custody of Sarah if less understanding relatives knew that Chrissy was transgender.

Chrissy was also nervous about work. She had been involuntarily outed in the late 1990s at another job, and didn’t want that to happen again. But then she discovered that her current workplace, IUPUI, has workplace policies that prohibit this kind of discrimination, as well as insurance that would cover her medical needs. Indianapolis also has an LGBT-inclusive human rights ordinance that protects her.

So in 2014, she took steps to start living as her authentic self, and fully transitioned in 2016. She says she is lucky, considering many transgender people don’t have the supportive family life and work environment that she does.

“We know people who have been forced into career changes because of discrimination and we know people who can not even be themselves at work for fear of their work stability and personal safety. We need protections so that this can end. LGBTQ people simply want to live their lives. We do not want special treatment. We want equal treatment and we want legislation that protects this human right. There is no reason to discriminate against us.”

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St. Joseph County Council Council Passes Flawed HRO That Actually Writes Discrimination into Law

February 15, 2017 by admin

Moments ago, the St. Joseph County Council passed a Human Rights Ordinance which aimed was to protect LGBT Hoosiers from discrimination, but that actually codifies discrimination into county law.

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As passed, the ordinance lacks an enforcement mechanism and actually treats LGBT discrimination differently under the law than other forms of discrimination—like discrimination based on a person’s race or gender.

According to Chris Paulsen, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, the ordinance was likely well-intentioned, but falls far short of offering the protections LGBT people truly need—and it could even be harmful.

“Nondiscrimination laws are critical to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of LGBT individuals. Unfortunately, if nondiscrimination laws are not properly drafted, they can cause harm. The St. Joseph County ordinance treats the LGBT community as second class citizens. We hope the St. Joseph County Council will consider amending the ordinance in the future to make certain the LGBT community is fully protected from discrimination.”

The ordinance is problematic in two key ways:

First, it places the enforcement power with the state Civil Rights Commission. But under state law, the Commission does not have the jurisdiction to enforce sexual orientation and gender identity protections. So an LGBT person could face discrimination in St. Joseph County—like being be fired—and file a complaint, but no organization would be empowered to investigate or levy penalties based on that complaint.

Second, it includes broad religious exemptions for religious-affiliated organizations and educational institutions. The ordinance would not prevent religiously-affiliated schools from refusing to admit LGBT students, and it might not prevent government-funded social service agencies from refusing to hire and serve LGBT people.

Local lawmakers should be applauded for tackling the important issue of discrimination. But ordinances that are not comprehensive and that do not offer any oversight can actually have grave consequences in the lives of LGBT people.

In 2016, Indiana led the nation in passing comprehensive HROs that truly protect LGBT Hoosiers in their communities. Freedom Indiana is committed to leading the nation again in 2017—but not with half measures. And we are committed to supporting the work of local organizers in crafting, planning and advancing ordinances in their communities.

Visit our Municipal Action Center to find out more about Freedom Indiana’s work to support local organizing across the state—and please let us know if you’re interested in moving an ordinance forward in your community.

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Hoosier Teachers Offer Critical Support For LGBT Youth & Teens Who May Find Fitting In At School A Challenge

February 8, 2017 by admin

Adolescence can be a tough time for anyone, but for LGBT youth, teenage years can be even more trying. LGBT kids are more than twice as likely as their peers to report bullying, and almost two-thirds say they feel unsafe at school because of harassment based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Teachers have a critical role to play in combating hostile situations and helping LGBT youth find acceptance and community.

One of those teachers is Mooresville High School teacher Caleb Taylor. Both Caleb and the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance—for which Caleb serves as a staff sponsor—are new at MHS. Caleb is a first-year teacher, and the GSA was recently revived by a dedicated group of students who felt they had few outlets for LGBT issues at their school. They asked Caleb to sponsor them, and he accepted, he said, because he felt it was his duty as a teacher to bring “a dialogue into the classroom.”

Caleb Taylor ID“We talk about the benefits of diversity, examine what it means to be tolerant, and how to respect different perspectives. My goal as a teacher is to make each student feel like their voice is heard in the classroom, and representation from the LGBTQ+ community is a part of that.”

Caleb is incredibly proud of the GSA, especially its president Kincayd Reed, who he says has worked diligently to make this club a community, one that attracts students who often don’t feel comfortable expressing themselves.

“No student wants to come to school where they feel isolated for who they are, or disrespected for what they believe. GSA and LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum makes students feel welcome, which in turn makes them enjoy school. I have seen students’ lives change from having this club at Mooresville High School in immensely positive ways—socially and academically.”

Supporting student clubs like the Gay-Straight Alliance are a concrete way that teachers can have a major impact on LGBT youth who are feeling self-conscious about their differences. As the movement for LGBT equality grows nationally, more and more students are taking the initiative, and having a sympathetic teacher to turn removes what could be a major barrier.

Natalie Littell Simmons, a 33-year teaching veteran Madison Consolidated High School, said last fall she also had a group of students approach her about starting an LGBT club. Natalie helped open a dialogue between the students, the school and community members so that the club would have guidance and a place to meet.

NLS Madison HS“All students deserve to feel safe and protected from bullying, labeling, racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other kind of bigotry or hatred. It makes me so happy to know that my LGBTQ students feel safe and loved. I can’t imagine not supporting each unique human-being who walks through my classroom door.”

Natalie says the students likely felt comfortable turning to her to help them shepherd this club into existence because of how she runs her classroom—with an explicit emphasis on the first of three simple rules: Be Kind.

“My students quickly get the vibe in my room that we don’t tolerate intolerance and all have the right to be themselves. Our classroom is a place kids can feel safe, to express themselves, to dare, to feel, to cry, and to laugh.”

For LGBT students, having straight allies among their teachers is critical for their safe and healthy development. But having a teacher who is gay or transgender can be even more important for letting kids who may feel like outcasts know that they are not.

Ben Yoder has been teaching music at Fishers High School for 10 years. In the classroom, he says, his sexual orientation doesn’t really come up. Outside of the classroom is a different story, since he knows there are no nondiscrimination protections for him in most of the state.

Ben Yoder“When I’m in class with my kids, I’m there to be my students’ cheerleader and biggest fan. However, when I’m not in my classroom and out in ‘real world’ Indiana, my sexual orientation often comes to mind. It comes to mind because I know that some of the rights that are extended to my friends and neighbors who are heterosexual are not extended to me.”

He says in his classroom, he spends a lot of time trying to imbue his students with the idea that every member of the orchestra is equally important and valuable. But it’s hard to square what he teaches students every day with what the culture teaches them—that they aren’t entitled to equal protection under the law.

“We are all equal and we are all valuable. That valuable life lesson is one Indiana would do well to remember. All Hoosiers are important. All Hoosiers are valuable. All Hoosiers deserve the same rights and protections, no matter their orientation or gender identity. As we continue to ‘make music’ together in our great state, let’s extend equal rights and protections to all Hoosiers. We deserve no less!”

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Indiana Attorney General puts politics ahead of LGBT families

February 1, 2017 by admin

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill is appealing a ruling that allows same-sex parents to both be listed on their child’s birth certificate. 

According to The Indianapolis Star, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled that the state of Indiana must grant the same parental rights to married same-sex couples as opposite-sex couples have. 

In her ruling, Pratt wrote: 

“Given Indiana’s long-articulated interest in doing what is in the best interest of the child and given that the Indiana legislature has stated the purpose of Title 31 is to protect, promote, and preserve Indiana families, there is no conceivable important governmental interest that would justify the different treatment of female spouses of artificially-inseminated birth mothers from the male spouses of artificially-inseminated birth mothers.”

Chris Paulsen, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, released the following statement regarding today’s report: 

“By putting the interest of children first, Judge Pratt’s ruling helps to ensure that all loving and capable parents are to be treated equally under the law, including same-sex couples. Sadly, Attorney General Hill’s decision puts politics ahead of LGBT families, and it further damages the state’s reputation as an open and welcoming place for all.” 

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Spirituality And The Movement For LGBT Equality Intersect At Monthly ‘Faith on Tap’ Meetings

January 31, 2017 by admin

LGBT Hoosiers frequently hear the term “religious freedom” used as a means to justify anti-LGBT discrimination. But religious freedom isn’t just a talking point used by opponents of LGBT equality. It’s one of our country’s founding principles—a principle that calls many to the fight for LGBT equality, rather than away from it.

Faith on Tap

Faith on Tap is a monthly inter-church meetup coordinated by St. John’s Episcopal in Speedway. St. John’s launched the ministry in 2016 as a way to help people navigate what it means to be LGBT and also a person of faith. The group meets monthly at bars and restaurants in the Speedway area.

Brandon Wallace, a member of St. John’s, facilitates these monthly meetings. He said usually 12 to 15 people attend these discussions, which focus on typical topics like God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, as well as how to combine faith with the movement for LGBT rights and social justice. During the 2016 legislative session members were even active politically, participating in phone banks, writing postcards and sending letters to lawmakers about the need to update Indiana’s civil rights laws so that LGBT people are protected from discrimination.

Brandon says that despite what many people seem to think, being gay and being spiritual are not incompatible. On the contrary—he says his advocacy feeds his faith and vice versa.

Brandon Wallace and boyfriend Tyler Brisco“Both of these push me toward social justice, not only for those in the LGBT community, but for all of those that are pushed to the margins. Jesus taught me to love and accept myself because God loves and accepts me. This pushes me to want to help others to realize their own worth as a human and a child of God—no matter what society tells them.”

St. John’s Episcopal prides itself on cultivating this spirit of inclusion and social activism. Church leader Reverend Jeff Bower, who is openly gay and married, coordinates the interfaith initiative for Freedom Indiana. Last summer, he testified before legislators during their “summer study” session about the importance of adopting a statewide law that would protect LGBT people from discrimination.

During his testimony Jeff told lawmakers that his faith teaches him that whatever God creates is good, and that in failing to celebrate our differences, we make it harder for people to love God and one another.

Jeff Bower and Husband“As a leader in Christ’s Church, I stand before you today, to say simply that there is so much more to me and my LGBT brothers and sisters, than our sexual orientation. As children of God, we are of value and contribute in a myriad of ways to the fabric of our communities and the greatness of our state.”

LGBT ally and Faith on Tap member Bonnie Atkins is proud of the church for taking such a progressive stance on issues of LGBT equality. Bonnie says her faith calls her “to be with the people on the margins, the overlooked, the forsaken, the oppressed,” and she says as long as LGBT people lack full social and legal equality, the church needs to be with them.

Bonnie Atkins FOT“Too often we as the church forget about this call in our pursuit of power but God has made it clear that this is the only way for us to truly find complete freedom. In Christ we are made equal through our shared humanity and as a follower of Christ I am responsible for embracing and protecting this humanity in all of its diversity. I am grateful for a group of Christ followers that can remind me of this privilege regularly.”

Other members of Faith on Tap agreed that full civil rights protections should be a top priority for Indiana’s lawmakers, and that no one’s religion gives them the right to discriminate.

As the legislative season heats up in Indiana, this issue and others are sure to be hot topics at the next Faith on Tap meeting, to be held at 6 p.m. on February 7th at the 1911 Grill in Speedway.

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