Tag Archives: civil rights

What is with the Fixation on Potties?

Oh, Indiana! You have so many virtues….and so many legislators with questionable reasoning abilities. The legislative session that just began promises to be a bonanza for those who enjoy black comedy and unintentional irony.

For those of us who want adult government, not so much.

A major focus of the upcoming session will be the effort to add four words and a comma to Indiana’s existing civil rights law.  In the aftermath of last year’s RFRA debacle, business and civic organizations have partnered with LGBT organizations and faith communities to lobby for the addition of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the existing list of things (race, religion, gender, etc.)that Hoosiers can’t use as reasons to discriminate against other people.

All of these characteristics should be totally irrelevant to an individual’s right to rent an apartment, enroll in an educational institution or buy goods and services in the marketplace.

Four words and a comma. It’s not rocket science.

Lawmakers who really do want to discriminate but want to pretend otherwise have come up with all manner of convoluted bills to allow disparate treatment to continue. Others have simply abandoned the pretense, offering proposals that, if passed, would tell the world that Hoosier Hospitality is a highly selective concept.

And the world has noticed. This is from Talking Points Memo:

An Indiana rep recently proposed a bill that would hit transgender individuals with a Class A misdemeanor if they used a public restroom that doesn’t conform to their gender at birth.

I can see the signs now: Before using this potty, please deposit your DNA sample with the attendant…..

The whole potty fixation is a mystery to me. I was just in New York—I know, a den of iniquity—and most of the public restrooms I used were “one at a time” facilities available to either gender. (If you’re really worried about who uses which toilet, I have a suggestion: Get a life!)

This bill should die a quick death. Last year, similar bills failed to pass in Kentucky, Florida, Nevada and Texas (hardly liberal bastions), and the Department of Justice has declared that restricting transgender students’ access to public restrooms amounts to sex discrimination under Title IX, but hey–this is Indiana.

Even Georgia doesn’t want to be “the next Indiana.” 

For a legislature dominated by self-described proponents of “limited government,” the bills submitted thus far certainly are a mixed bag. On the one hand, our “small government” Christian conservatives are proposing a bill that would effectively  outlaw abortions (no terminations after a heartbeat is detectable–about the same time most women find out they’re pregnant). On the other hand, it’s hard to square that “pro life” position with the bill allowing habitual drunks to buy guns, the bill removing the need to license guns, the bill to allow guns on college campuses…

Maybe they want to be able to shoot people they think are using the wrong potty?

In any case, if the “wrong toilet” and gun bills pass, I’m moving to a saner state….Evidently, there are a lot of them.


RFRA, Language, WorldViews

A couple of days ago, a group of Indiana Pastors gathered at the Statehouse to deliver a long letter accusing the Governor and legislators of “betrayal” for amending RFRA to include a modicum of civil rights protections for LGBT Hoosiers.

I encourage readers to click through and read the letter in its entirety, because it is a (rather chilling) window into a world in which words like “liberty” mean something very different from their meaning in the world I inhabit.

This “fixed” RFRA legislation has opened the door to a trampling of our liberties….You received godly counsel from strong and knowledgeable leaders from across our nation who encouraged you to stand strong and to veto this legislation. You failed. In doing so, you betrayed the trust of millions of Hoosiers who elected you to protect the liberties we hold dear….

You state that you are committed to an Indiana where religious rights and individual rights coexist in harmony. While this sounds wonderful, we all know that the demands of the LGBT lobby make this untenable with those who profess faith in Christ and faithfulness to the Scriptures. It was clear from the press conference that the next “discussion” will involve the creation of sexual orientation and gender identity as a special protected class in Indiana. Leadership from the gay community told all who were listening that this will become a reality in Indiana….

God’s Word is very clear about the proper expression of human sexuality, and homosexuality is one of a variety of sexual behaviors God expressly condemns. For Christians, therefore, sexual sins can never be treated as civil rights.

There is much, much more.

Let me be clear: drawing a line between the right of people to the free exercise of their belief systems–no matter how foreign or even repugnant those beliefs may be to other Americans–and the civil rights of their fellow citizens is not simple, nor is the placement of that line uncontested. The Pastors’ letter highlights a consistent and probably unavoidable tension in an America that values both liberty and equality.

That said, the letter vividly demonstrates the worldview of would-be theocrats who believe they speak for God– who believe they have the right to demand laws that privilege their beliefs and impose them on everyone else, and who believe that failure to occupy that privileged legal position victimizes them.

This is the worldview of the Taliban.

Brace for Blowback…

Or was that Brownback? As in retrograde Governor of Kansas?

According to AP,

Brownback rescinded an executive order issued in August 2007 by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The order applied to hiring and employment decisions by agencies under the governor’s direct control and required them to create anti-harassment policies as well.

 Brownback has defended his state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage,  which was recently invalidated by the federal courts. Apparently, this was his “I’ll show you” revenge.

At the same time he rescinded the order, which he criticized as “unilateral” (I think Executive Orders are “unilateral” by definition…) Brownback issued a new order reaffirming the state’s commitment to prohibit discrimination based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, gender or religion. In other words, Kansans shouldn’t pick on people unless they’re gay.

“This executive order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did,” Brownback said in a brief statement. “Any such expansion of ‘protected classes’ should be done by the Legislature and not through unilateral action.”…

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay-rights group, said the jobs of hundreds of gay, lesbian and transgendered workers are now at risk, after they’ve spent nearly a decade believing they were safe on the job after disclosing their orientation or gender identity.

Two steps forward (aka same-sex marriage), one step back.

Kansas should be ashamed.


This is a Test

I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” He was right; and that vigilance can be taxing. Similarly, social progress requires persistence, and most of us tire of activism in the long run. “Cause fatigue” is human–but not helpful.

I’m beginning to see that fatigue in Indiana’s gay community. The national trend is toward equality; polls show that once my generation is dead, the fight for equal civil rights, including marriage, will be won. So a lot of well-meaning folks–gays and straight allies alike–are easing up on their support for the organizations doing the heavy lifting.

In Indiana, dwindling support can have very significant, very negative consequences: the right wing may yet get a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on the ballot. And of course, Indiana still doesn’t protect even the basic civil rights of its gay citizens. So it isn’t a good time to let up on our support for groups like Indiana Equality.

That support can be as simple as attending the upcoming holiday party being held to benefit IE. If you are one of the people who’s feeling burned out, at least party for equality! And if you can’t go, send money. You’ll feel better, and so will Thomas Jefferson.

Progress is Hard Work

How does change happen?

Too often, we think of broad cultural changes as part of an inevitable sweep of history,  sort of like the process of maturation we go through as individuals: as we grow up, we understand more. This analogy conveniently overlooks the people who grow older but do not grow up. And it overlooks the role that parents, peers and educational institutions play in molding individuals.

Cultural change does not come about accidently either. A lot of blood was spilled in the fight for legal equality for African-Americans—and by forcing legal change, the civil rights movement began the lengthy process of changing attitudes. The evolution from “a woman’s place is in the home” to a society in which working women are a commonplace didn’t begin with bloodshed, but it did begin with suffragette marches and continued with the establishment of feminist organizations like NOW and NARAL. Similarly, the growing acceptance of gays and lesbians has been the product of hard work by gay civil rights organizations.

I mention that because, in my city, it is the time of year for Lambda Legal’s big fundraising dinner. On September 16th, members, supporters and supportive public officials will gather in downtown Indianapolis to hear Zach Wahls, a remarkable young man whose speech to the Iowa legislature went viral a few months ago. At 19, he is representative of a generation that symbolizes the changes in attitudes about gay families—changes that have occurred largely because of the work done by organizations like Lambda.

No organization of which I am aware has been more important than Lambda, although there are certainly many organizations doing great work on behalf of the LGBT community.

The reason I raise the importance of civil rights organizations is that there tends to be a “trajectory” of support for any cause. Early in the movement for equality—whether for African-Americans, women or gays—there is generally a dedicated, even enthusiastic, core group that supports and funds the organizations that have been formed. As those organizations experience successes, as they see progress, and as time passes, the early support dwindles and the enthusiasm flags. (Most recently, you could see this in the fight against AIDS; as new medications were developed and discrimination lessened, so did awareness. The sense of urgency abated.)

It’s well to remind ourselves that winning any battle, let alone the battle for equality, requires persistence above all.

It can be difficult to constantly pump ourselves up, to attend yet another fundraiser, yet another rally. We all get tired of emailing and calling our elected representatives, writing yet another letter to the editor. That’s why organizations are so important—they do the day to day work that absolutely has to be done if a movement is to be successful. Through our donations, we are paying others to be persistent for us. Writing a check is a lot easier for most people than doing the necessary nitty-gritty work.

Writing that check is the least we can do.