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I’m a Hoosier, too Kimberly Acoff • Fort Wayne
LGBT advocates wary of parts of proposed bill December 17, 2015 Source: Tribune-Star

CLICK HERE to see original video footage and read the article on Tribune-Star.

By Nick Hedrick

A grassroots organization stopped in Terre Haute Thursday to raise awareness of pending state legislation that would ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers — but with a number of caveats.

Freedom Indiana is pushing to update Indiana’s existing anti-discrimination law to protect LGBT people without exemptions. Last year, the group successfully lobbied against a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

“We’ve seen in the polls that have come out lately that the majority of Hoosiers don’t realize that it’s still legal to deny housing, or fire someone or deny service to gay and transgender Hoosiers,” Chris Paulsen, Freedom Indiana’s campaign manager, told the Tribune-Star. “We’ve also seen that the majority of Hoosiers think that’s wrong and it should be changed.

“And obviously, Indiana wants to be known as an open and welcoming state, so in order to do that we need to pass these protections so that people from outside Indiana realize that coming to Indiana is safe and welcoming,” she said.

Senate Bill 100 — GOP-backed legislation expected to headline the upcoming General Assembly session — would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and employment. One of the exemptions is for wedding service businesses with fewer than four full-time employees.

A Indianapolis Star/Ball State University poll released this week indicates nearly 70 percent of Hoosiers support civil rights protections to the LGBT community. Indiana is among 31 states where someone can be fired or denied housing for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT civil rights organization.

HRC’s latest Municipal Equality Index, however, rates Indiana above the national average in LGBT equality. The organization examined LGBT-related policies and procedures in seven Hoosier cities, finding Bloomington the most comprehensive. Terre Haute was not included in the survey.

Freedom Indiana regional coordinator Alex Totten and field worker Brian Chambers spoke to a small group of supporters at the Vigo County Public Library, detailing the organization’s plan to add the protections.

The steps include reinvigorating supporters, welcoming new allies, engaging the faith and transgender communities and sharing stories of LGBT discrimination.

Totten and Chambers said the organization doesn’t support the current version of SB 100 because of the exceptions. Transgender Hoosiers would have to prove their gender identity before receiving protection against discrimination.

The law also does not deem as discriminatory restroom policies or dress codes based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

If passed as currently written, the bill would also nullify local anti-discrimination laws — including Terre Haute’s — even those more inclusive than the state’s.

“I don’t want to get too worked up at this point with what the legislature might do,” Terre Haute City Council president Todd Nation, who attended the community meeting, told the Tribune-Star.

Those attending Thursday night brainstormed local businesses, churches and community leaders who might join the push, and filled out postcards, wrote letters and left phone messages with lawmakers encouraging them to support SB 100 without exemptions.

Advocating for LGBT rights isn’t new territory for Sharon Russell, a member of the ACLU of Indiana’s board of directors. Years ago, she worked with a similar group called Indiana Equality.

“At that point, progress wasn’t being made, so I’ve been supporting these issues for a very long time,” she said.