Finding a safe place to be yourself without fear of discrimination or harassment is critical for members of the LGBT community. That’s especially true in Indiana, where there are no statewide laws that prohibit discriminating against someone because they are gay or transgender—and where only 16 cities and towns offer comprehensive protections. Because of this, for many LGBT Hoosiers, that safe place is hard to find.
It can be especially difficult for transgender Hoosiers, who feel like a nationwide spotlight has turned on them because of what’s happening in North Carolina. Jeanne Smith, who was recently a delegate at the Democratic National Convention, feels acutely this shift in the political mood. For her, speaking up is a way to combat these attacks.
“Fear of the unknown and anger over marriage equality is providing the fuel for this attack. One study concluded that more U.S. citizens report having seen a ghost than have seen a transgender person. One of the most important tools we can bring to this fight is to be seen and understood as upstanding citizens.”
Finding a safe place is also difficult for LGBT young people. Teen years are a time many people find their way toward self-expression, but sadly this is often not safe in to do in schools for LGBT young people in Indiana. But there are some places in the community that fill this void, including clubs that welcome LGBT teens.
Lukas Andrew Steward performs at a club like this: Scandals Night Club in Evansville.
“I love the owners of the local gay bars we have here. They give our community a place to be themselves without judgement. I’m on cast at Scandals Nightclub and their being 18-plus, it gives the younger crowd a place to feel at home too.”
This fear of rejection persists into adulthood and the world of work, since it’s currently perfectly legal in Indiana to fire someone because they are gay or transgender. Sara Siefert, who works as a social worker for people living with HIV and AIDS, has seen this firsthand.
“I don’t think people think enough about the perspective of the LGBTQ community. They grow up hiding who they are out of fear of rejection or a loss of a place to live. Then when they grow up, they are still afraid to be who they are because Indiana does not guarantee them any protections at work.”
Sara has a good friend who is a police officer, and she said that for years he has hidden his identity—including the existence of his husband and their four children—from his fellow officers because of concerns about professional repercussions he might face.
“He literally puts his life in his co-workers’ hands, but some of them don’t even know about his family. Because there’s no telling how he might be treated by some on the force. He could be harassed, threatened, even fired. Indiana is letting him down. I have a straight cousin who is an officer too. You better believe all his coworkers know his wife and kid’s name. Having a family shouldn’t be taboo at work and the LGBTQ community shouldn’t have to live in fear or hiding. Indiana is better than that.”
When Tamzin Malone and her family moved to Indiana five years ago, she had similar concerns about her family. Specifically for her daughter, who is a lesbian. However, some forward-thinking decisions at the local level that ensured protections against anti-LGBT discrimination solidified her family’s choice. Her husband accepted the job offer from Purdue and they made the move.
“We had heard she would not be welcome here, but because of the protections put in place in Greater Lafayette and Tippecanoe County, we decided to go ahead with the move. But there have been minor incidents where she and her wife have been verbally harassed because they are two women together.”
Tamzin then started a business, Main Street Books in Lafayette. Equal protections for LGBT Hoosiers are still very important to her, not just because of her status as a self-described “fierce” PFLAG mom, but because of her status as an entrepreneur.
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“Small business owners need to serve everyone, and discrimination against anyone based on who they love is wrong.”