Business group: HSE vote against gender identity, sexual orientation ‘baffling’

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — OneZone, the chamber of commerce for Hamilton County communities, has called out the Hamilton Southeastern School Board for its decision last week to exclude gender identity and sexual orientation from its nondiscrimination policy.

The policy without specific language to protect groups based on gender identity and sexual orientation was approved April 24 in a 4-3 vote. The board has not indicated any effort to reconsider its action.

Before the vote, the school board’s vice president, Sylvia Shepler, made remarks regarding the LGBTQ community saying, “now it seems like being straight is less acceptable almost.” Shepler also said, “It is now becoming more and more acceptable that it is cool, it’s popular. It is having a gold star in the eyes of their peers. Why wasn’t this condition acceptable in the past and it is now.” 

Wednesday’s statement from OneZone President Mo Merhoff was shared by the group HSEqual, which is calling for the Hamilton Southeastern board to fix its nondiscrimination policy.

OneZone’s statement recalled former Gov. Joe Kernan speaking at a state chamber of commerce luncheon on Indiana’s future. Kernan received a standing ovation after he noted the next generation “won’t tolerate intolerance.” 

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“Fishers is a community that’s taken that seriously,” the OneZone statement continued. “The Stigma-free Fishers campaign brought together police, fire, school, community and health representatives, and together, they’re making a difference. Fishers has been on so many ‘best of’ lists, it’s almost expected. Fishers is a positive, open, welcoming community. 

“This is why HSE school’s recent vote on its discrimination policy is so baffling. Of course, inclusion is important to students, parents, teachers and administrators. But it’s important to business too.”

OneZone’s statement notes human capital as being crucial for economic development and called on the school board to reconsider its decision and “include those most vulnerable.”

The statement concluded, “Let’s not leave any doubt about who we are.”

The local chamber of commerce statement follows a similar call to the school board made last week by Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness