By Abdul Hakim-Shabazz
No one should be surprised that the same body of lawmakers that can’t pass Sunday alcohol sales couldn’t agree on how to thread the need of civil rights protections for the LGBT community while respecting religious freedom and rights of conscience. That may sound a little harsh, but it is true. Now, to be fair to my 150 friends over at the Indiana General Assembly, the matter was more complicated than some would have liked, but luckily the solution isn’t.
Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org.
Let’s start with why it ultimately would not have gotten out of the state legislature.
First of all, for a number of lawmakers, particularly those in rural areas, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights issue is not a big deal. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s true. I’ve been speaking to a number of state representatives and senators from small towns and rural communities. When they have their town hall meetings, the tops issues are roads, jobs and schools. They might be lucky to get one question about the LGBT issue. So we shouldn’t be shocked that they don’t get worked up over something that their constituents don’t. Of course, there is the irony that nearly 80% of the job creation in Indiana takes place in communities that protect LGBT rights, as I will point out shortly.
Second, there’s the politics of a tough vote. This one isn’t as much complicated as it is a fact of life. Let’s face it – a lot of politicians aren’t necessarily profiles in courage and they won’t take a tough vote unless someone drags them kicking and screaming to it. There’s also the fact that we are about to enter primary season. And either the lawmaker doesn’t want to get a primary challenger or to have the issue used against them by one of their primary opponents as they either run for re-election or seek a higher office.
Third, there’s what I call “the American Beauty” factor. Look up the film and pay close attention to the reason why Kevin Spacey’s character is killed. But if you don’t have time, let me spell this part out for you, some folks just don’t like the LGBT community. Maybe it’s just a straight up dislike, borderline hatred or they have their own “unresolved” issues. And this subject makes their lives more difficult because it either goes against their own personal prejudices or it’s just another thing that would have to make them come to terms with who they really are and for that crowd denial is a lot more than a river that runs through Cairo.
So, with that said, how does this problem get solved? Easy, go local. Go back to the trenches where LGBT rights supporters have had their most success. In other words, they need to refocus on efforts to pass local human rights ordinances.
According to Indiana Competes, currently 24 percent of Hoosiers live in a city or town with a fully inclusive Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) that covers both sexual orientation and gender identity. Thirty-four percent live in communities that have some protections or lack enforceability, for example while there is no ordinance there might be an executive order on the books or there’s a city policy prohibiting discrimination in hiring. Communities with fully inclusive and enforceable HROs include: Indianapolis/ Marion County, South Bend, Carmel, Hammond, Muncie, Anderson, Columbus, New Albany, West Lafayette, Zionsville, Terre Haute and Bloomington.
And ironically this is where most of Indiana’s economic growth is taking place. One of the criticisms of passing statewide protection is that Indiana’s economy continues to thrive without one. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Indiana is thriving, but it’s in the places that have local HROs. More than 82 percent of Indiana’s the new economic investment commitments announced by the Indiana Economic Development Commission between April and December 2015 were in communities with HROs. And more than 58 percent of new jobs and more than 90 percent of all ‘high-wage’ jobs announced in Indiana were created in communities with comprehensive HROs.
And that’s the key selling point. Based on my conversations with lawmakers from smaller communities, jobs are the big issue because their constituents worry that the job creation isn’t coming to their communities. Well, one way to fix that might be with a local HRO. I’m not saying it’s the silver bullet what ails small-town Indiana, but it probably couldn’t hurt. Apparently it’s helping other local communities. And that’s where the battle should go next.
Abdul is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org. He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Indiana media outlets. He can be reached at email@example.com.