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This session, our Legislature needs to reckon honestly with our state’s legacy. Time and time again, the supermajority has refused to protect populations of vulnerable Hoosier. If we do not reverse course, we will do long-term damage to the reputation and viability of our state.
A 2019 Gallup poll revealed that about 16% of Gen Z (those born between 1997-2002) identify as LGBTQ+, a sharp jump from the 9% of millennials, 3.8% of Gen X and 2% of baby boomers who said the same. That works out to over 100,000 LGBT+ Hoosiers currently growing up in Indiana, a number Gallup predicts will continue to rise in younger generations.
Here is my question for lawmakers: why on earth would any of these 100,000 individuals choose to stay in Indiana? And why would any LGBTQ+ citizen of the U.S. choose to move here?
For a decade, Republicans have not only refused to grant these Hoosiers the protections they deserve, but have actively fought against granting them civil rights. Discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals is still legal in the workplace, in housing and in the goods and services sector (discrimination against veterans is also legal in some of these arenas). In our state, you can legally be fired, evicted and denied service based on your identity.
Across the nation, more than 50% of LGBTQ+ citizens report that they have hidden a personal relationship, avoided public places and healthcare facilities or changed the way they acted or dressed for fear of discrimination, harassment or violence. It is unconscionable. It is heartbreaking. One can only imagine the feelings of LGBTQ + Hoosiers, who remain unprotected and often antagonized by the elected leaders meant to serve them.
Pollsters think the number of people identifying as LGBTQ+ will only grow in the future, meaning more and more young, brilliant minds will be looking to civil rights statutes to determine where they can prosper. My prediction is that they will find Indiana sorely lacking. We have sent a message to the LGBTQ+ community—with 2015’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (Senate Bill 101), with insufficient civil protections, with anti-transgender legislation, with continued legal conversion “therapy.” We have told them that they are not welcome here. They’ll take our word for it. We will miss out on new talent, new ideas, new businesses and friends and citizens if we do not course correct, quickly.
Throughout the summer, I heard fellow legislators, business leaders and industry professionals alike express grave concerns about Indiana’s “brain drain.” Professions across the state are being rocked by aging workforces with precious few young people coming in to replace them. Here’s a common sense solution: protect our diversifying younger generations here in Indiana, or lose them to places that will.
Indiana must stop waiting for federal statute to give citizens due justice—pass strong, statewide protections now. Add gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes. Work for our LGBTQ+ residents. Support them. It seems backwards to me that the self-appointed party of personal liberty, which is currently aiming to end “vaccine status discrimination,” is so very reluctant to grant LGBTQ+ and veteran Hoosiers those same protections and freedoms.
In 2015, the same year that Mike Pence and members of the Republican supermajority proposed the anti-LGBT RFRA, polls showed that 62% of Hoosiers believed discrimination against LGBTQ+ citizens should be illegal. Only 34% opposed the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. With widespread public support, one has to wonder what the holdup is. Our supermajority continues to drag us back in time, even as Hoosiers fight to move forward.
A crisis of compassion. A failure of policy. Call it what you want, the end result is the same. It boils down to this: every single Hoosier deserves protection. If Indiana refuses to keep its citizens safe, why should we expect them to stay?