Let “Religious” Freedom Ring

Meghan Buell founder of T.R.E.E.S. and columnist for OUT in Michigan City Photo: Facebook

Happy Pride !!!

Wow, it is June already. It seems like winter just ended and now we are almost half way through Pride Month. A lot has happened since I last wrote. The first half of the year has kept me busy either teaching or traveling for TREES, Inc. (www.webetrees.org). Some thing that happened recently has caused an itch to get under my skin, so, I would like to share some thoughts on it. It is the recent SCOTUS ruling about “the baker”.

For those not in the know, in short, SCOTUS ruled that a baker in Colorado was unjustly “sanctioned” by the local human right commission/ordinance there. However, the ruling has been used as a tool to inspire some folks to think they can openly discriminate with “religious freedom” as the tool for this discrimination. My first, and most significant reaction is “Oy.” In fact, that may be as far as I should go with any reaction, but I won’t.

In my view, if someone wants to discriminate they will. It is only when there is a definitive or blatant record of it can much be done to debate which side is right. We are not at this point yet. See, someone’s “firmly held religious belief” has not been define and in many cases defining it is being avoided. By defining it, those who declare this defense for discrimination would actually be held to some level of accountability. Being held accountable would then mean they would have to show a true conviction to their religious faith. Right now, it is a wide open can of “pick and choose” religious doctrine adherence. Spew a bible verse when it is convenient and works for you. When challenged on other verses, side step them by declaring them obsolete. Wow, what a nice easy tool to be just plain old bigoted. And, as lower courts begin to rule in favor of “religious freedom” there starts to be legal precedent for upholding carte blanche discrimination. This should scare us all.

I mention to folks sometimes that I would love the opportunity to used these rulings to prove a point. I would like to open a restaurant and have the chance to ask people, or just make a blind assumption, about their sexual orientation of gender identity in the hopes that when they answer as straight or cisgender (not really thinking they would know that term but you get it) so I can channel Seinfeld’s The Soup Nazi by saying, “No Soup for You!”. Of course, this would probably land me in the news. In the end, this would be a terrible business model and I’d probably go out of business in short order, unless, I incorporate as an IRS 501c3 Religious Organization. Hmmm? Anyone want to join a board of directors? LOL

In conclusion, talking about religious freedom and discrimination is not going to go far. Actions will speak louder than words on this one. Go out and prove a point in whatever manner you wish, because, until this can is closed, it’s a free(dom) for all. Walk proudly as your authentic self and when someone challenges you to prove your authenticity just say “no proof required due to my religious freedom” and see how they react. Good Day.

Happy Pride !!!

Get Over It

So it was mentioned to me on Friday that a local radio station was having a discussion with their listeners on why we need a PRIDE Festival or more specifically why we shouldn’t have one. Just this morning before it was deleted on a local Michigan City community Facebook page someone said they didn’t understand why ‘you people’ needed a PRIDE Fest.                         

Jeanne Manford founder of the support group that would eventually become PFLAG marching in an early gay pride parade.

Here’s the deal, Michigan City has always had a large LGBT community. This community pays taxes here, spends money here, and CHOOSES to live here. NOT Chicago or Indianapolis or other big city with a ‘gay neighborhood’ but here. In fact I got news for you haters the WHOLE city is a gay neighborhood. I can’t swing a stick and not hit a LGBT person in my community. The LGBT community in Michigan City is no longer sitting on sidelines. Also we are no longer going to someone else’s city to celebrate PRIDE and why should we have to?

A more unified LGBT community is what I envisioned three years ago when I started OUT in Michigan City. Our Facebook page and eventually our website was started after my husband and I attended a RFRA protest march in Indianapolis and we witnessed first hand what a united LGBT community could accomplish. I wanted the same thing  here and now it seems we are heading in that direction. As of this writing OUT in Michigan City had 1095 ‘likes’ and followers so we must be reaching a few people in Michigan City and the surrounding communities.  

Honestly when I started our page and website I thought I was alone, but thankfully I’m not. Other like minded people have started their own projects like the La Porte county LGBTQ Alliance or the LGBT support group at the high school. The local PFLAG chapter here offers support to parents of gay, trans, bi, and questioning people and to any queer person in need of support. Real support for real people in need.

One of the things that attracted me and my husband to this city was it’s diverseness and inclusiveness, Michigan City for at least in the time I’ve been here, has been a haven for people from all different walks of life and for that I am thankful. I’m also thankful for the unwavering support that the PRIDE Fest  Committee has received from The City of Michigan City.

Since we started the process of planning the PRIDE Fest I’ve been expecting a little blow back, but at less then a month before the event all I have to say is what took so long? For those of you though who ultimately just don’t get it. For those of you who have never had the word ‘fag’ screamed at you from a coward in a moving car as you are trying to carry groceries into your apartment. To those straight guys out there who have never been fired from a job simply because you are gay or had to suffer from any sort of disrespect or discrimination, yet you have the  audacity to ask “Why can’t we have a straight Pride parade?” To those of you who just don’t like us, I’ll put it in a way you will understand in a terms used since the first gay PRIDE parades dating back to the 1970’s….

WE’RE HERE! WE’RE QUEER! GET OVER IT!

And that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake.

Michigan City PRIDE Fest is June 30th 2018 at 121 W. Michigan Blvd (Next to City Hall) in Michigan City’s historic Uptown Arts District

Is a Nationwide ‘R. F. R. A.’ Coming on May 4, 2017?

Then Candidate Donald Trump at a rally in Denver

The ‘religious liberty’ executive order that has been championed by Vice-President Mike Pence and and other religious conservatives will allegedly be signed by President Donald Trump on Thursday May 4, 2017. According to “Politico,”  http://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/02/donald-trump-religious-liberty-executive-order-237888 two senior administration officials confirmed the plan that is set to coincide with the “National Day of Prayer.” Conservative leaders have been pressuring the President to fulfill the campaign promise that he made to protect so called religious freedom. Some experts claim that the order is to broad and will let any business, employer, landlord, or health care provider discriminate against the LGBT community for any reason as long as they claim it goes against their religious liberty.

In March of 2015 then governor Mike Pence signed Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” into law which caused outrage in Indiana’s LGBT community. The law also caused outrage among Indiana based companies like Salesforce and Angie’s List, as well as the NCAA, also based in Indiana. Opponents of the law claimed that it cast the Hoosier state as unwelcoming and discriminatory towards the LGBT community. Religious leaders such as Eric Miller from Advance America, a right wing lobbying group, said at the time, “It is vitally important to protect religious freedom in Indiana, it was therefore important to pass Senate Bill 101 in 2015 in order to help protect churches, Christian businesses and individuals from those who want to punish them because of their Biblical beliefs!” The bill was signed by Governor Pence behind closed doors and ended up costing the State of Indiana over 60 million dollars in revenue.

During his campaign, then candidate Trump touted himself to be a friend and champion to the LGBT community by Tweeting on June 14, 2016, “Thank you to the LGBT community!  I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.” Yet during his short time in office President Trump has continuously rolled back former President Obama’s executive orders protecting LGBT rights.

 

INDIANA SQUANDERED MONEY ON ANTI-LGBT LAW DAMAGE CONTROL

JOHN LIVELSBERGER — MARCH 6, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 30: Demonstrators gather outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Porter Novelli was hired by Indiana after national outrage over the state’s anti-LGBT Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence.

According reports that were released last week from Indiana Economic Development Corporation, there was no real reason given as to why taxpayers were stuck with a $365,000 bill from New York-based public relations giant.

The record totaling 1,100 pages gave little to no information what was exactly gained by the hiring of the firm, or how the Hoosier State benefited from it, or why Pence terminated the contract just weeks after retaining them.

Porter Novelli did provide the state with a monitoring radar and daily reports on what was being said about the state in traditional media and social media.

This tracking system kept tabs on influential social media users like Republican pollster Christine Matthews, political strategist Donna Brazile, and Huffington Post senior political reporter Amanda Terkel.

An Apr. 15, 2015 report said that “a number of opinion writers and LGBT community leaders believe spending $2 million in taxpayer money is unnecessary, and that the state should instead pass non-discrimination laws.”

Indiana has so far failed to pass such laws during the current legislative session.

Chris Cotterill, general counsel for the IEDC, spins the hiring of Porter Novelli as nothing to do with RFRA. He explained, “The reason [to hire the firm] was there before. It’s not to make up for something.”

According to a press release that was scrapped just hours before it was sent out, Indiana Commerce Secretary Victor Smith said, “We must acknowledge the recent political controversy surrounding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has damaged our reputation.”

The release went on to mention RFRA several times.

According to the report, IEDC officials and Porter Novelli edited out any mention of RFRA and the quote attributed to Secretary Smith.

When asked why this version of the release was not used, IEDC Spokeswoman Abby Gras said, “Various word choices were considered in the development of this particular release. All of our press releases at the IEDC go through several rounds of edits; this is pretty standard.”

The documents provided by the IEDC were only released because of a formal complaint issued to Public Access Counselor Luke Britt. He argued that the IEDC had violated the states’ public records law by not releasing the records after they were requested eight months earlier.

John Zody, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, submitted a public records request to Pence in July of 2015, seeking all documents and e-mails from Porter Novelli.

According to Zody, “Pence wasn’t being transparent with Hoosiers when he terminated the taxpayer funded contract with Porter Novelli the day before a long holiday weekend. Hoosiers need to know their tax dollars are being managed properly.”

According to Indiana law, public records requests need to rereleased to the requesting parties in a “reasonable” amount of time.

“Simply put, a reasonable period of time has long since elapsed,” Brit wrote in his opinion against the IEDC.

When the IEDC finally complied with the request, what it provided was a document that had either partially, or completely redacted, pages.

Fifty other documents were completely withheld.

According to Cotterill, the reason so much of the report was not made available was to keep top-secret marketing strategies out of the hands of other states.

“If, for example, the IEDC had to reveal all it’s marketing plans, then other states that are competing with Indiana for jobs would have Indiana’s playbook,” Cotterill said. “More than that, they would have the underlying opinions and analyses that lead to the development of our ‘plays’”.

Even after the $365,000 price tag, the RFRA law is still in place. Advocates say that the only damage control the state needed to do was pass LGBT non-discrimination laws, a solution that would have been much less costly both in finical terms and in terms of reputation.