Because Indiana law does not have explicit LGBT-inclusive civil rights protections, LGBT Hoosiers have long had to worry about being discriminated against by employers. Being fired, denied a promotion, or overlooked for a job just because of who you are or who you love, is an unfortunate fact of life for LGBT people.
STORIES IN THIS COLLECTION
Two Hoosiers affected by employment discriminate are Molly and Samantha Ellis-Robbins.
Molly currently works for Starbucks. She’s considered changing jobs before, but she’s always stayed because she knows Starbucks’ company policy protects her from anti-LGBT discrimination—something that’s not guaranteed at another company, and which is not offered under Indiana law.
“Why would I leave a company that has been open about their inclusive stance from the beginning,” she says, “When there is no guarantee that I will be protected anywhere else?”
Molly worries about discrimination, but Samantha—who goes by Sam—has experienced it firsthand. After graduating from college, Sam applied for a job at a large, Christian university in the state. Soon, however, she was discouraged from pursuing her application by one of her contacts there, who told her she would either not be hired or eventually fired once administrators knew she was a lesbian.
“I just don’t think this should be something anyone should have to worry about. No one should live their life afraid to be themselves or afraid to be outed at work.” –Sam (right)
“I just don’t think this should be something anyone should have to worry about,” she said, relaying how shocked she felt when she heard this information. “No one should live their life afraid to be themselves or afraid to be outed at work.”
Kayla Hensley is another Hoosier who worries about being discriminated against where she works, at a movie theater in a south side suburb of Indianapolis. She’s celebrated three work anniversaries—one as a manager—and is about to celebrate one year with her current partner.
But she won’t be celebrating at work. She’s friends with a lot of her coworkers online, where she’s proudly out, but isn’t sure if the other managers at the theater would be as comfortable with the fact that she’s bisexual, so she keeps a strict no-relationship talk rule at work. Of course, she says, this makes her sad—and afraid she might one day lose her job.
“I wish I could hold my girlfriend’s hand as we go to see a movie there without the fear of it being pointed out. And I wish I didn’t have to hide this part of who I am because of fearing discriminatory repercussions towards myself and my position in the workplace.” –Kayla
“I wish I could walk into work and mention my girlfriend as my coworkers are talking about their significant others,” she says. “I wish I could hold my girlfriend’s hand as we go to see a movie there without the fear of it being pointed out. And I wish I didn’t have to hide this part of who I am because of fearing discriminatory repercussions towards myself and my position in the workplace.”
Tasha, who lives in the western suburbs of Indianapolis with her wife, who’s a police officer on the local force, also keeps a tight lid on her personal life at work—and she’s self-employed.
Her community is very conservative, she says, and it could really hurt her ability to bring in new customers if the fact that she’s married to a woman became common knowledge.
When she meets someone new, she knows the first questions will always be “What does your husband do?” and “How many children do you have?” So she has to hedge, and worries that doing otherwise would cause her family being slandered across social media and her business losing customers.
“Equal rights and equal protections would mean I wouldn’t get a lump in my throat and my heart racing each time I met someone new. I could say with confidence, ‘My wife and I are happily married and working on hitting our 10-year anniversary this December.'” –Tasha
“I have gotten used to referring to my wife as ‘my better half’ when I don’t feel comfortable,” she says. “Equal rights and equal protections would mean I wouldn’t get a lump in my throat and my heart racing each time I met someone new. I could say with confidence, ‘My wife and I are happily married and working on hitting our ten year anniversary this December.’”
Michael Carte and Molly Whitley are Hoosier expats and roommates living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where they moved for work after graduating from college.
Michael, who is gay, says Indiana never felt welcoming to him or his other gay friends. He was bullied in high school for for trying to start a Gay Student Association, and then again in college, when his roommate outed him to their entire dorm. He says he would come back from class to find anti-gay slurs scribbled on his dorm room door.
“The pure hatred for LGBT people was a daily part of my life in Indiana. Growing up, I was bullied and harassed on a near daily basis for my sexuality, even before I knew myself. It was clear at every level that Indiana was not a place where I would ever be comfortable being myself outside of the company of trusted friends. I knew I needed to get away.” –Michael Carte, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Molly isn’t gay, but says she felt the same hostility directed toward her as a woman, specifically from some of Indiana’s elected officials. She knows brain drain is a problem in her home state, and sometimes feels guilty for leaving instead of staying and working to make a difference—even though, at this point, she feels much more able to do that in Minneapolis.
“Fighting is something I’m capable of. But I wanted that energy to be channeled someplace where it was less likely to be written off by those in charge and therefore more likely to contribute to change. I commend the people who stay and work to make Indiana a place to be proud of rather than one to run away from. I wish I was that strong, and I thank you for all you do.” –Molly Whitley, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Jacob Lucas, who is gay, also moved away from Indiana to pursue his professional and personal dreams.
Last year he graduated from Ball State with a degree in health science, focusing on HIV treatment and prevention. The 2015–16 HIV outbreak in southern Indiana gave Jacob the opportunity to use his education to help people in his home state, but these efforts were hamstrung by the legislature.
And when HIV prevention funds were almost diverted toward conversion therapy, he started to fear not only for his job, but for his life. He knew he had to leave. Now, Jacob works in Thurston County, Washington—which includes Olympia—as an HIV prevention coordinator.
“Although I considered Indiana home as long as I can remember, I knew that graduation was my chance to get out and I had to take it. Even though my community was in need of help that I was able to offer, proposed anti-HIV and anti-LGBT legislation made it impossible for me to do my work. I am now following my dream—something I wish Indiana had enabled me to do.” –Jacob Lucas, Olympia, Washington
Marti Abernathy, who is transgender, spent most of her working career (she’s a radiologist) in the Hoosier state. And she has the stories of workplace discrimination to show for it.
Once, when she was starting a new job, a coworker introduced her as a “tranny.” At all of her jobs, she was repeatedly passed over for promotions for which she was more than qualified. At one particular job she was denied advancement 29 times even though her performance record was stellar.
And because Indiana has no employment protections for LGBT people, there was no way for her to fight this discrimination formally. She did, however, get more involved in LGBT advocacy.
“During that early part of my transition, I saw how badly a lot of LGBT people were treated and decided I’d do what I could to fight the injustices I saw then. I always joked that radiography was my paying job, and that LGBT advocacy was my non-paying job.” –Marti Abernathy, Madison, Wisconsin
Marti moved to Madison, Wisconsin in 2009 specifically because the city has a reputation for being more accepting and welcoming of LGBT people. That doesn’t mean Marti never experienced discrimination there—a landlord kicked her out of a rental for being transgender—but Madison’s strong non-discrimination protections meant she could file a complaint with the civil rights commission and receive restitution.
“The lack of protections sends the message that Indiana is unwelcoming. After living in Madison (and now in England) I wouldn’t consider moving back without workplace and public accommodation protections. They don’t stop discrimination, but they do stop the effects of unfair treatment. They don’t give me any special rights; they just allow me to be me. I don’t expect special treatment; I just want to be treated fairly.” –Marti Abernathy, Madison, Wisconsin