INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Former Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard was honored, along with his wife Winnie, by the Indy Rainbow Chamber for his work for LGBT rights.
The Chamber said his work was most significant after Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act in March 2015.
“Mayor Ballard was very vocal and very fast and he was very loud,” said JJ Gufreda, president of the Indy Rainbow Chamber.
Following the state’s passage of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, Ballard stood outside the City-County Building with former mayors and business leaders and said, “Let me be clear, Indy welcomes all. This isn’t about politics. It’s not about PR. This is about what’s right.”
Gufreda says because the mayor acted so quickly, the entire conversation changed.
“This was leadership for Indianapolis and it doesn’t matter what party you are,” said Gufreda.
“This legislation threatened to damage the city and he was going to make sure that didn’t happen,” said Chris Douglas, an LGBT advocate, and former president of the Chamber.
Douglas said among the protests, the city needed leadership. He also said the LGBT community needed an ally, and that’s what Mayor Ballard gave.
“It helps that everybody knows that he’s a no nonsense guy, a former Marine and really dedicated to the well-being of the city. And he just wasn’t going to have any of it,” said Douglas.
Because of the law, dire predictions were made for the city’s business future. Days later, the legislature passed a fix. Those predictions have never come true, but Ballard says it took a lot of work to keep the state from the brink of disaster.
“It was literally hundreds of phone calls, maybe thousands of phone calls, a lot of people doing a lot of extra work,” said Ballard. “All that said, we have lost some conventions, students have not come to some of the universities they were coming to. All those things are happening. All that is still in play. We’re still working to have to overcome that. All that said, I think we saved a lot of it, and Indiana is a good place to do business. It is a good place to raise a family, but we just need to make sure that everybody around the country and around the world knows that.”
“Any time you have an individual like Mayor Ballard who comes out in support of a minority community, its a sign of progress,” said Jason Hinson-Nolen, the president of Indy Pride.
Instead of the dire predictions, businesses came together to welcome all.
And just two months after RFRA was signed into law, the city hosted its biggest Pride Week ever. 100,000 people on the American Legion Mall, and Ballard served as grand marshal of the pride parade. And as Pride Week kicks off again this weekend, Indy Pride says they’re planning for even more people.
“We’ve seen growth every single year for the past six years so we imagine we’ll see 10 to 15 percent more than that,” said Hinson-Nolen.
GREENWOOD, Ind. (WISH) – LGBT allies in Greenwood are trying to get a non-discrimination ordinance passed in their city.
“It’s the empathy of the matter,” said Matthew Smith, who is petitioning the city’s common council for the protections. “I don’t want anybody to be denied service of employment because of who they are or who they love.”
The renewed effort by Smith and others comes after the state legislature failed twice to pass statewide protections.
“The Statehouse has had plenty of time to take care of it, and they’ve made it clear that they’re not going to do that, so now I think it’s time to act,” Smith said.
Smith is hosting a rally outside of Wednesday’s common council meeting. He says RFRA put the state in a negative light, but this action could turn it around, he said.
“I think most people in Greenwood are very reasonable people and they’ll look at this law and say, ‘You know, this is a big loophole that people are taking advantage of, and it’s just the morally right thing to do to make this change,'” he said.
The city’s Republican mayor seems to agree.
“I understand Mr. Smith’s concern and I have talked with some of my council members about it already,” said Mayor Mark Myers.
Myers said he’ll work with Freedom Indiana and request the council study the issue. If they get it right the first time they’ll avoid any embarrassment, he said.
“The last thing I want to see happen is for it to get on the agenda and be shot down. We don’t want Greenwood to be portrayed in a negative image,” said Mayor Myers.
Last summer Goshen and Elkhart both tabled their ordinances after adding them to the agenda.
“That looks bad for the community. We don’t want that,” Myers said.
Republican Councilman Bruce Armstrong was reached by phone. He said these talks should be had at the state level, saying the piecemeal approach won’t work and that state lawmakers need to handle it.
“It’s not in a mean-spirited way. We’re not trying to tell them they’ve done something wrong, we’re just wanting to tell them this is something we want done,” Smith said.
In addition to Wednesday’s rally, Mayor Myers said he will discuss the issue with the council president on Thursday during their weekly meeting.
Click here for more information on Wednesday’s LGBT rights rally.
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – The Indiana House of Representatives rejected an amendment Thursday that would prevent discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
It’s the latest round in the civil rights battle at the Statehouse and it means that super majority Republicans aren’t willing to accept even the most narrow of new civil rights protections, at least not this year.
Earlier attempts to create new protections applied to housing, employment and public accommodations.
The amendment authored by House Minority Leader Scott Pelath applied only to employment.
It was an effort to find Republican support for a measure that avoided the controversy caused by earlier proposals. Seven Republicans voted for it yet the House voted to defeat it on a vote of 35 to 59.
“We know where people as of today stand on the civil rights issue,” said Pelath, “and that’s important for economic development. We should keep working on it.”
House Speaker Brian Bosma says more Republicans would have voted for the amendment if it had been the subject of a public hearing.
“Do I think it’s productive to drag this out every day and put a stamp on it again?” he asked. “No, I don’t think it’s productive.”
Indiana Competes, a coalition of business leaders, issued a statement calling the vote a declaration that Indiana will continue to tolerate discrimination against the LGBT community.
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A civil rights bill that died on the Senate floor Tuesday left the LGBT community and its supporters disappointed.
Not only did they feel the Senate Bill 344 was incomplete for not including transgender protections, they were also against it failing all together.
LGBT community members tell 24-Hour News 8 they are under the impression that even though it passed through committee hearing last week, there was to be more debate on making sure transgender protections would be added.
That didn’t happen Tuesday.
And as proponents look to next year’s fight, they’re also leaning on a few positives from this session.
Back in his element Tuesday, Vital Skate shop owner Kovin Bothwell focused on his roller derby passion. He teaches skills training for the Naptown Girls Roller Girls.
“How to skate, how to keep your balance,” he said of his job.
Recently, much of his time has been dedicated not to his business but to the statehouse where he was advocating for equal rights for the LGBT community. Bothwell, who is transgender, spoke out against SB 344 for not including transgender protections and was only further disappointed when the bill died without being amended.
But at the very least, he knows his voice and that of several on his side were heard.
“I’ve had the chance to sit down with lawmakers. I’ve know many members of the transgender community have had a chance to sit down with lawmakers, so we’re getting there, we’re making our presence known,” he said.
Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar supported the bill, even testifying at the committee hearing last week. But he did so with the hope that lawmakers could come to a compromise on transgender protections. He felt the bill as it stood was incomplete.
“I made that statement so that we could have further discussions about including protections, if not for employment, housing and public accommodation, at least for employment and housing,” he said. “There has to be legislators and folks in the hallway with open minds and are willing to look at and work on a path to a solution, a path to a compromise.”
Brinegar added that the chamber will push strongly to expand civil rights laws again next year.
But Bothwell feels even a failed attempt this year is better than no attempt at all.
“The transgender community is just getting stronger and stronger as a result, and that’s a nice positive,” he said. Bothwell also plans to be back for the next session. “Keep doing what we’re doing, keep reaching out to people, keep talking to our lawmakers and get that message out that Indiana deserves full equality for LGBT Hoosiers,” he said.
We reached out to the Indiana Family Institute (IFI), an organization that opposed the bill for infringing on small business owners who wanted to protect their religious beliefs. The organization did not return our messages.
IFI’s Operations and Public Policy Director, Ryan McCann, sent out a tweet Tuesday afternoon that read, “SB 344 is dead, long live Religious Freedom! However, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. IGA isn’t adjourned until March 15.”
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – The Republican Leader in the Indiana state Senate is emerging as the key player in the civil rights battle at the Statehouse.
David Long is in a difficult position and his political future could be on the line. Long is up for re-election this year and that makes him a target.
Tea Party Republicans don’t like the fact that he promised a debate on civil rights protections for the LGBT community and they are now trying to recruit a candidate to oppose him in the May primary.
David Long kicked off his re-election campaign last week with a flashy Internet video which spelled out his accomplishments.
“Which is why I’m running for the Indiana state Senate again,” he said in the video, “to make sure we stay focused on what matters most.”
But a group of conservative ministers believes that Long is focused on the wrong issues. It targeted him during an Organization Day rally.
“This is war,” said Rev. Ron Johnson of the Indiana Pastors Alliance. “Today the leader of our Senate will produce a piece of legislation that he would like to see passed.
“That is a sign of war as it relates to people who are concerned about religious liberty.”
And last week the same group delivered 5,000 petition signatures to Long.
A critic on facebook accused Long of betraying the GOP.
And so Long points to a new bill has been filed in the Senate. It calls for civil rights protections for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals but not transgendered people.
“It reflects the fact that there’s a lot of questions about the transgender issue right now that haven’t been discussed before,” he said in a meeting with reporters following the State of the State Address.
That earns Long criticism from the other side of the argument.
“Our community won’t leave the transgender people at the altar,” said civil rights activist Rick Sutton. “They’ve stood with us through thick and thin, we can’t leave them now.”
“It’s not an easy discussion. It’s not an easy answer,” said Long. “We’re trying to navigate there.”
Long is running in a district that includes parts of Fort Wayne. So far he has no opponents.
And Long’s critics can’t wait to see how this works out before they make a move. The filing deadline for the May primary is February 5 and the LGBT debate likely won’t end until sometime in March.
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana lawmakers get back to work Tuesday when the 2016 general assembly session begins.
A hot-button issue will be LGBT rights.
Supporters of updating Indiana’s civil rights law to include protections for gays and transgender people held a vigil in downtown Indianapolis on Sunday.
The event was hosted by Freedom Indiana and two faith groups.
Christian author and Danville pastor Phil Gulley was the keynote speaker during the event.
Lawmakers are expected to debate the issue during the 2016 session.
The issue has become a focus for many Hoosiers following last year’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A majority of people in Indiana believe that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA, still needs to be fixed.
It’s one of the findings in the WISH-TV/Ball State Hoosier Survey.
56 percent of the people questioned want to see protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Only 36 percent are opposed.
“All of the regions are sitting there at over 50 percent,” said Ball State political science professor Ray Scheele. “For example, the southern region is even over 60 percent that they support that.”
And that’s why organizations including Freedom Indiana are conducting grassroots efforts to convince lawmakers to make a change.
Former Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle has formed a political action committee for that purpose.
- FULL COVERAGE | Religious Freedom Restoration Act
“This is just one of those issues,” said Oesterle in September, “there’s not room to compromise on civil rights.”
In fact, only 43 percent polled said that a wedding service provider should be allowed to refuse same-sex couples. 52 percent said they should be required to serve same sex couples, although 67 percent of Republicans said that refusal should be allowed.
“That’s the base that the Republican General Assembly and the Republican governor have to work with,” said Ball State political science professor Joe Losco.
And some of that opposition is on the web in a video produced by Eric Miller of Advance American to warn against action on the General Assembly’s organization day.
“It’s even more devious because this sneak attack could involve passing a bill on Nov. 17 that deals with sexual activity and children,” said Miller.
Through it all Indiana has been the target of loads of negative publicity.
Who’s to blame?
The Hoosier Survey found that most of it is directed at the media: 64 percent. Only 19 percent blame the governor and just 7 percent point to the General Assembly.Editor’s note: Chime in! Vote in our unscientific poll within this story.
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The approval rating for Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is stuck below 50, according to findings from the 2015 WISH-TV/Ball State Hoosier Survey.
Mike Pence started 2015 on a high. Amid speculation that he might run for President, he focused on matters close to home.
But one of the things he focused on backfired: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA.
The governor signed it surrounded by the three biggest opponents of gay marriage in Indiana.
Critics called the law a license to discriminate and the governor stumbled badly in an effort to defend it on national television.
The result is a relatively low approval rating in the Hoosier Survey.
It shows that just 47 percent of the people in Indiana like his performance. Thirty five percent disapprove of the job being done by Mike Pence.
“And this is where RFRA — and some of the other issues that we’ve also polled on — show that Pence really got hurt,” said Ball State political science professor Ray Scheele.
A year ago, the Pence approval rating in the Hoosier Survey was 62 percent.
It means that the governor has experienced a 15 point drop.
“Just as important is that he’s down about 17 points among Republicans,” said Ball State political science professor Joe Losco. “So, clearly there’s some shine off his administration.”
And the governor, so far, has done nothing to change the dynamics.
When asked in March if he is still opposed to giving protected status to gays and lesbians, Pence said, “I’ve never supported that.”
24-Hour News 8 asked voters who they would support if the 2016 election was held now.
Forty two percent chose Pence.
Thirty seven percent chose Democrat John Gregg.
It’s a gap that is within the poll’s margin of error.Editor’s note: Weigh in! Vote in our unscientific poll within this story.
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana lawmakers don’t debate legislation for a few months, but there’s one topic already getting the attention of Hoosiers.
On Tuesday, State Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane detailed plans to ban same-sex discrimination.
“I think it should be with our legislation stuff,” Indianapolis resident Richard Evans said. “It should be.”
“They should be focusing on a lot of other things that’s going around,” Indianapolis resident Angela Andrews said.
Lanane says with certain cities across the state passing this type of legislation, it’s clear the state needs to give direction.
“The funny thing is, one could get up in the morning protected in one city, travel perhaps to your work, in another city, where you could be fired without any type of recourse,” Lanane said.
While democrats are prepared to focus on this in 2016, that’s not the case for Republicans. GOP leaders on Tuesday told WISH-TV their focus is on roads and hiring teachers.
“There’s no doubt that we’ll be talking about the civil rights statute and other issues,” Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma said. “I would not put that as the most important issue that faces every Hoosier in the state.”
While it might be an uphill battle for the minority party, Lanane says after the religious freedom discussion last session, this needs to get done.
“I think unfortunately we sent the wrong message last year, and it’s going to take a while to repair that and this would be a bold move for us to show for the rest of the country, and the world, that Indiana does not discriminate,” State Sen. Lanane said.
CARMEL, Ind. (WISH) — The city of Carmel has a new anti-discrimination ordinance aimed to protect residents against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The city council voted 4-to-3 to pass the new ordinance at its meeting Monday night.
Another packed room for the third and final hearing of Carmel’s anti-discrimination ordinance.
Council members heard dozens of opinions, with a fairly even split between those supporting its passage and those in opposition.
“This spring, with the number one hashtag being ‘#BoycottIndiana,’ our state was absolutely devastated,” resident Denise Moe said.
Moe believes putting protections for sexual orientation and gender identity into city code sends a message to potential Carmel residents.
“It’ll help businesses, it’ll help technology, it’ll help our community and it’s the right thing to do for all people of Carmel,” she said.
Father Richard Doerr of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church brought a group to protest outside city hall Monday night.
He says that he feels this ordinance will prohibit his rights and that it will discriminate against Christians.
“Part of what our constitution includes is the ability to worship God and to practice your faith in a way that is unhindered by something that’s happening in the public square,” Doerr said.
Three council members voted against the ordinance, including Luci Snyder.
“We’re trying to balance the rights of those who legitimately say we should be treated fairly and the rights of those who say freedom of religion and the exercise thereof is an inalienable right,” Snyder said.
Four council members ended up voting in favor of the passage, including Ron Carter.
He said despite some questions over language specifics, this will be positive for the city.
“I find myself in a position of saying ‘yes, we need to do this and we need to do it now and it’s an appropriate ordinance.’ When all of the smoke screen is taken away, we need to do it now,” Carter said.
Should someone feel they have been discriminated against under this new ordinance, they can file a complaint to the city attorney.
The attorney will investigate and determine if a warning or a fine is warranted.
As this ordinance was passed tonight, a warning will be issued first and then a $500 fine for the next offense.