How Indiana Conservatives Are Winning The Fight Against LGBT Protections With Fear

CREDIT: WikiCommons/Derek Jensen

The Elkhart County courthouse in Goshen, Indiana.

On Tuesday, Allan Kauffman (D), mayor of Goshen, Indiana, posted a statement announcing that the City Council would not be voting on a proposed LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance that night. “Despite several attempts to tweak the ordinance amendment to respond to concerns expressed, they have not been enough to gain good consensus from City Council members,” he wrote.

Kaufmann attributed the ordinance’s failure to “misinformation and confusion,” as evident from the hundreds of emails and phone calls city leaders had received. A conservative group known as Advance America claimed victory for the bill’s failure, having been responsible for the fearmongering that led to its tabling.

Advance America, led by one Eric Miller, is working overtime to hold back LGBT rights in towns across Indiana. He told the Goshen News that blocking Goshen’s LGBT protections was an essential part of stopping a “pro-homosexual agenda.” His organization similarly blocked LGBT protections from advancing in Elkhart last month.

In identical bulletins for Elkhart and Goshen, Advance America warned that protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations would have these supposed consequences:

  • Give men, including sexual predators, (rapists and child molesters), legal access to women’s and girl’s restrooms, women’s dressing rooms and women’s shower areas placing women and children in Elkhart at grave risk of harm!
  • Give the government the authority to punish a Christian business owner (baker, florist, wedding planner, photographer, etc.) who refuses to participate in a homosexual wedding ceremony in Elkhart!
  • Elevate sexual activity over religious freedom in Elkhart/Goshen!
  • Pave the way in the future for the government to punish churches and pastors in Elkhart/Goshen who believe that marriage should only be between one man and one woman!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Miller was one of the key people who helped write and advocate for Indiana’s infamous Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which — until carveouts were added after national outcry — would have given a state stamp of approval for businesses to refuse service to LGBT people on religious grounds. He stood right behind Gov. Mike Pence (R) as he signed the original unamended version into law, and Pence has likewise heaped praise on Miller — “this good man” — and Advance America for their conservative advocacy.

Advance America has been opposing LGBT protections in Indiana for some time. Back in 1999, Miller’s group was working against a hate crimes law that would have included sexual orientation protections. And incendiary scare tactics have been par for the course. When advocating against marriage equality in 2013, Advance America warned that pastors would be jailed and fined for committing a hate crime just for preaching against homosexuality.

Miller’s myths about bathroom safety has been widely debunked; whole states have protected transgender people’s access to public accommodations for years and not once have these protections put women or children at risk. Besides, criminal behavior would still be criminal.

Advance America is not succeeding at stopping every local ordinance, but its committed resistance to these civil rights bills is holding back LGBT protections across the entire state of Indiana, which has no state-level law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. After the kerfuffle over the RFRA, state lawmakers seemed inclined to consider such legislation next year, but Pence has already been trying to downplay that possibility. In recent weeks, he has claimed passing the protections is no longer necessary because “we found a way through that difficult period last spring to calm the waters, and the facts speak for themselves: Indiana’s economy is strong and growing stronger.”

In other words, the only reason he was willing to consider the protections was for the purpose of damage control after the state’s apparent endorsement of discrimination against the LGBT community. Given Advance America’s work to uphold that endorsement — and ongoing threats from businesses to take their money to a more LGBT-friendly state — it seems that very little has actually changed in Indiana.