By Greg Weaver
INDIANAPOLIS—When my adult son decided to move back to our home state of Indiana, I was overjoyed.
I feared the state wouldn’t be as welcoming.
A little more than three years ago, my son Adam came out as gay. And Indiana government hasn’t exactly built a reputation that embraces the LGBTQ community – a trend that continues today with the Republican-dominated legislature’s refusal to pass a meaningful hate crimes law.
When Adam came out at age 24 while working and living in Germany, I wanted to be as supportive as possible. But my job as the politics and government editor at The Indianapolis Star made it complicated.
In a state that has been home to one of the most bitter and politically hostile battles between religious and gay rights, it was my job to make sure my reporters conveyed all sides of the issue. I took that role very seriously.
Journalistic ethics demanded I refrain from publicly advocating for LGBTQ rights. I couldn’t call my state lawmaker and give him an earful. I probably shouldn’t even attend a gay pride parade – though every fiber of my being told me I had a burning family obligation to do everything I could to guarantee basic civil rights for my son and other LGBTQ Hoosiers.
Adam came out shortly after I had spent weeks guiding IndyStar’s coverage of Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, also known as RFRA.
Critics loudly raised fears it would allow businesses to use religious objections to deny services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers.
Ultimately, pressure from business and sports interests forced then-Gov. Mike Pence and the legislature to roll back provisions that could have wiped out local protections against LGBTQ discrimination in Indianapolis and some other Indiana cities.
Still, in much of the state, LGBTQ Hoosiers can be fired or evicted from their apartments simply because of their sexual orientation.
Today, Indiana stands at the crossroads of another key gay rights debate. This time, though, I declare my independence from journalism on this one monumental and deeply personal issue.
In January, I left my job as IndyStar’s politics editor and accepted the company’s early retirement offer. Now, this watchdog is unmuzzled, and I can freely tell you that I believe any refusal by Indiana lawmakers to pass a meaningful hate crimes law to help protect LGBTQ Hoosiers is a hate crime in itself.
The Indiana Senate’s recent decision to pass a vague proposal that doesn’t offer protections to any specific group tries to ignore that LGBTQ Hoosiers even exist. The proposal also would be impossible to enforce against crimes that target other characteristics needing protection: religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender and disability.
Previously, obstructionists in the legislature indicated they’d pass a bias crimes law so long as it didn’t include enhanced sentences for hate crimes against transgender Hoosiers. But not one of them is willing to stand up and honestly say why.
The reason is their bias and fear won’t stand up to scrutiny in the harsh light of day – the same reason they stayed in the darkness during RFRA.
My Christian upbringing tells me they want to hide behind isolated passages of the Bible and cast transgenderism as a sin against nature while ignoring Jesus’ broader call to protect “the least of these” – the vulnerable and the marginalized.
My son, a diversity and inclusiveness consultant, bravely returned to Indiana despite its reputation. He knows good, rational people live here, and he came with the hope he can help them make progress on LGBTQ issues from a perspective of fairness, equality and morality.
Now, if only religious conservatives in the legislature would listen to gay Christians like my son and acknowledge that Jesus is never recorded as speaking against homosexuality. If only they would be less fixated on the few Bible passages used to clobber gays, stop ignoring the Bible’s broader exhortations to protect the marginalized and pass a hate crimes law that doesn’t overlook one of the most vulnerable segments of our society.
Indiana already has one national black eye in the aftermath of the RFRA debacle. It doesn’t need another because some legislators insist on letting it remain one of the few states without a meaningful hate crime law.
The Indiana House now has an opportunity to fix the situation and add specific protections for LGBTQ Hoosiers and other vulnerable people. But it won’t do so unless Indiana’s business interests and all friends of the LGBTQ community again raise a huge ruckus.
So tell lawmakers it’s time to make all LGBTQ Hoosiers feel welcome in their home state.
Actually, it’s past time. Gov. Eric Holcomb gets it. Why can’t you?
Greg Weaver is the former government and politics editor at The Indianapolis Star.