Friday, June 02, 2006

What's Wrong With Indiana Equality

There are some topics I really enjoy writing about on this blog site. There are other topics I don't enjoy talking about. But sometimes you have to talk about the things you don't like as a way of trying to make them better. And that explains why I am now writing about Indiana Equality.

IE is the currently the state's largest GLBT organization. And if it gets its way, it will be the only voice for Indiana's GLBT community. That is not to say that speaking with one voice is necessarily a bad thing. Speaking with the voice currently being communicated by IE, though, is a bad thing.

My first big problem with IE is how undemocratically it is run. The current and only president in recent memory of IE is by all impressions self-appointed. Other people who serve as officers or board members serve at the discretion of this one person. None of them have the backbone to stand up to her, even when they know how wrong she is. This person's management of the organization is dictatorial and unfriendly. Policy decisions are made with no coherent or rational explanation other than that is what this person says IE must do. Financial records are closely guarded with only very sketchy information being shared with the people it expects to financially support it.

While the organization is reknowned for patting itself on the back for the major progress it has made in this state on matters of gay civil rights, the reality is that our laws are among the worst in the nation. Even when it comes to matters on which it has achieved success, such as a toothless hate crimes reporting law, IE leaders repeatedly misrepresent this legislative achievement as a hate crimes law. It is not, and Indiana is one of only 4 states in the country which does not have a hate crimes law.

When Eric Miller and the Christian right were trumpeting SJR-7 as part of their campaign to demonize gays and lesbians and write discrimination of them into the Indiana Constitution, IE urged a very low profile opposition to it. Others could not accept that, such as Rock Indiana's Pepper Partin. She organized a counter-protest to the State House rally Eric Miller was planning. "You can't do that" she was told by IE leadership. "There can be no rally because the turnout will be very small and we will look weak." "We are in charge, and you have to do what we say." Their approach was to have these secret one-on-one meetings with key lawmakers involving certain members of the IE leadership who understand the political process and are respected by the legislators they assure us. You people you see are just sewer rats who must stay hidden away. Partin, while initially disillusioned by IE's efforts to undermine her rally, ran with her heart and her head. And she succeeded in bringing out more than a thousand members of the GLBT community to protest SJR-7. In the end, even the IE leadership was fighting for a place on the stage to give the impression they had been a part of it all from the very beginning.

Partin, ever the wise one, collected the names and addresses of all the people who gathered for the rally she organized. And we all know how important mailing lists can be for political and fundraising causes. And guess who demanded the list for its own. Ignoring their threats and other efforts at intimidation, Partin maintained the integrity of her list much to IE's disappointment.

The greatest achievement in Indiana by far is the passage of Indianapolis' Human Rights Ordinance. IE, to its credit, reached out to the many other GLBT-related organizations to form a Region 8 coalition to build a grassroots effort after the debacle a year ago when the city-county council first voted down the HRO while IE leadership was confidently predicting its passage. Two Region 8 participants in particular, the Greater Indianapolis Progress Commitee and PFLAG, performed yeoman's work on behalf of the coalition. But in doing so, IE leadership used the guise of the coalition in an attempt to control the activities of other groups within the coalition. In the end, the effort was successful, but there was plenty of credit to spread around, and it wouldn't have been necessary at all had IE not so badly handled the first round of voting on the HRO.

With the success of the HRO, IE is not satisfied with a loose-knit coalition. It insists upon a complete command and control structure that gives it authority to dictate policy to all other GLBT organizations. This aspect of their governing style raised its ugly head in the form of a non-disclosure agreement it is insisting that all coalition members sign as a condition to participation. Any information or discussion at one of its meeting that IE deems "confidential", coalition members are forbidden from discussing with anyone outside the coalition. What happens if someone violates the "gag rule?" An inquisition of sorts will be conducted to root out the leaker, who will be promptly expelled from the coalition. Is this anyway to conduct the affairs of an organization fighting for civil rights? This coalition member won't be signing any such agreement, so that will make AI an ex-coalition member.

No sooner had the HRO passed than we saw legislation offered in the Indiana House of Representatives to void Indianapolis' HRO and other similar ordinances adopted by other cities in Indiana to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. As debate on the measure began, no one from IE had bothered to alert the GLBT community to the draconian proposal. After AI alerted the community through the list serve and a post on this site, we were assured that IE had been on top of it all along. Their paid lobbyist was on the scene and springing into action. They had met with Speaker Bosma and convinced him to kill the amendment on our behalf, even though the decision had already been made to withdraw it before anyone spoke to the Speaker. He's not such a bad guy they said. The only problem was that neither IE nor the lobbyist were registered to lobby at the time. It seems that someone had not only forgotten to file legally required activity reports for the past year, but had also failed to register the organization and its paid lobbyist to lobby during the current legislative session. Weeks after AI reported on this small detail, late reports and late registrations were duly filed with the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission.

An equally disturbing aspect of the IE leadership is the manner in which it continuously feeds disinformation to members of the GLBT community about various political leaders who have never demonstrated any support for our issues. As a life-long member of the Party of Lincoln, I would like every Republican to be with the GLBT on its issues. But I'm also a realist, and I understand that many are steadfast in their opposition of recognizing any form of rights for members of the GLBT community. And I'm not afraid to call out those Republicans who are particularly strident in their efforts against the GLBT community.

It is quite an anomaly that the IE leadership is controlled by persons who describe themselves as Republicans. Regardless of one's party affiliation, the actions of a politician, not mere words, should determine whether a person is considered friend or foe. I find myself tirelessly arguing with IE leadership about persons they claim are friends of the GLBT community whose record in public office on our issues are abysmal. At the same time, persons who are clearly on our side are taken for granite.

Contrast these two recent examples. Hard-working members of the Indianapolis GLBT community endeavor to help two friends of the cause by hosting a fundraiser for Rep. David Orentlicher (D) and Susan Fuldauer, a Democrat who is seeking to oust House Speaker Brian Bosma, who has pursued the most anti-gay agenda in the history of the Indiana House of Representatives. This sensible act brought disapproval from IE's leadership. "How dare someone else in the GLBT community do something?" "That's our job."

The next example involves the paid lobbyist for IE giving a $500 campaign contribution to the re-election campaign of Rep. Woody Burton (R) during his tough primary battle with Ron West. That would be the same Rep. Burton who sponsored the Defense of Marriage Act, sponsored anti-gay parenting legislation, compared homosexuality to bestiality, voted for SJR-7 and has a zero record of support on anything pertaining to the GLBT community. If you would think members of IE leadership would shrink from defending this unconscionable contribution, you would be wrong. That Woody must be one smart politican. He's got the gays and the Christian right fighting for his re-election at the same time. Gee, I wonder which side Woody's going to vote with?

Notwithstanding the horrendous record of IE's current leadership, as luck would have it, a well-intentioned person in a few days will bless them with a generous contribution. He will be rewarded with a seat on the board and patted on the back, but the same failed leadership will be in charge making the same bad decisions it has made time and time again. In the past, I have contributed to IE and supported its efforts in hopes that things would improve, but I'm frankly on my last leg with the organization. A fresh start with free ideas and fresh leaders is needed. I just can't eat anymore of this stale bread that is IE.


paula said...

Just a small pet peeve - Today's Republican Party is not even remotely the "Party of Lincoln".

Also, if there is a board, and the woman in charge of IE is so hated, why not vote to oust her?

sorry - not in the "know" to get who "she" is, nor any other insider IE info, so questions are asked on face value of Gary's post.

Marti said...

couldn't have said it better myself. Gary, welcome to the land of lepers. Personally, I've given up on doing any kind of activism that's GLBT related in Indiana for just the reason you've stated. I was one of the original organizers with Pepper for the Rally, and you couldn't have put the facts out on that any better. About the only thing you left out was the blackmail tactics of the Chair. The only thing else I can add is AMEN!

Advance Indiana said...

Paula--when the president handpicks the board and never has a meeting of the members to decide such matters, it's a little hard to oust her.

Troy Liggett said...

Gary - AMEN, AMEN, and AMEN!

You're correct that Indiana lags the nation in LGBT equality in every category. I give I.E.'s president credit for this, and all the blame to the LGBT community for letting her continue her evil ways.

I may sound like a naysayer, but I'll suggest that I've tried to work with her. I've tried to help I.E. be more open and successful, raise money, get involved politically ... but the answer has always been NO. I'm not sure why ... maybe I'm too much of a Democrat? A man? Someone who might offer a different idea or perspective?

In meetings I've had with I.E's president, she has either sat in the back of the room with her arms folded and said nothing (like "you'all don't know what you're talking about") or got mad and stormed out of the room when someone (me) actually disagreed with her.

I contacted I.E.'s lobbyist to throw a combo fundraiser for I.E. and the Stonewall Democrats when a gay New York assemblyman friend was in town and offered to help. I.E.'s lobbyist agreed and signed off on everything, invitations were sent ... and I.E.'s president raised holy hell that I.E. would EVER be associated with a Democrat organization. She demanded that I cease and desist ... Wow, that's great coalition building, eh?

When I was on Stonewall Democrats' board, I was at first adamantly opposed to ISD's involvement in anything she led. When we finally decided I.E. was the only coalition organization in town and we all needed to come together, we took I.E. up on the offer to be a part of their coalition. Wham bam ... I.E.'s president immediately reniged on the open offer. No negotiation. No compromise. NO "DEMOCRAT" ORGANIZATION ALLOWED. (That's why you don't see the Stonewall Democrats listed as a coaltion partner -- they have been denied participation. Yes, they're a part of the local Region 8, but the I.E. President won't let them at the big table.)

You may also remember City-County Council Member Karen Horseman's effort to bring domestic partner benefits to city and county employees. I.E.'s president ADAMANTLY opposed this effort because the idea wasn't on her personal agenda ... so much so that she didn't life one finger to help and worked on the campaign to defeat Karen in the next election (and thus we have Republican Scott Keller).

Who was the one and only State Representative to carry an LGBT anti-discrimination bill out of committee in the House? That would be my dad ... with ZERO help or support from Indiana Equality. And what did I.E. do to help him in the next election when the Republicans came after with some serious gay-baiting? ZERO. NADA. NOTHING ... and I assume that was purely spiteful on I.E.'s president's behalf. It is my thought that she prefers Republicans in the majority in the House so she can have more "double-secret clandestine meetings" with her Republican friends.

As you may remember, a group called "Justice" was the predecessor to Indiana Equality. It was the last statewide coaltion for LGBT issues. I.E. was started after Justice's president absolutely aliented everyone in the community and ran that organization in the ground. Now she's doing the same to Indiana Equality.

Anonymous said...

The "elephant in the room" is Kathy Sarris.

Advance Indiana said...

Troy--you mention Scott Keller and Kathy. The most disheatening thing I've experienced in all this is to sit at an IE fundraiser at Scott Keller's house and hear Keller and Jackie Nytes credit Kathy Sarris for everything that has ever happened in the State for the GLBT community. I listened as they credited her with things GIFA had done and she had actually opposed. She didn't do one damn thing to help us with the HRO and everyone at the Region 8 table knows it but is afraid to say so. I didn't include this info in my post, but Ms. Sarris has named Keller and Nytes co-chairs of the newly formed IE PAC. I think it is a complete outrage that she would name two politician to head the PAC. I guess no one from the GLBT community was good enough to serve this role. She knows I am superior in political knowledge and experience to her and every one of the stooges she leads around by the nose in that organization. She will do everything to keep someone like me, you or anyone else out of IE's hierarchy that she feels threatened by. I simply cannot deal with a group that is so grossly incompetent and is nothing short of being the laughing stock of the State House.

lori said...

Thank you for telling this story Gary. Many good and motivated GLBT activists have become disillusioned when they have to fight IE as well as our real opponents for equality. They leave the fight and the leaders that are harming us stay on. I didn't see any of the IE leaders at David and Susans fundraiser. I did however, see their paid lobbyist there. Did he leave a check for David or Susan (I was watching and never did see him donate) or was he there so he could report activities to the IE hierarchy? I suspect the latter. I like some of the people involved with IE on a personal level but their abilities will continue to be neutered until Her Highness steps down from the throne. To much is at stake for everyone to patiently wait for her departure. Kathy needs to go before the community is harmed further.

Steph Mineart said...

Given the number of Don Quixotes who've tilted at this particular windmill, there are probably enough of us now to get together and do it at the same time.

paula said...

OK. That was all helpful. Maybe it is "sour grapes" maybe it is the gospel truth. As an outsider, it is hard to tell, especially since I haven't heard the other side.

Tell me this, how did she get where she is, and why doesn't she see the damage she is doing (or does she just not care because her way is more important than what is good for all of us)? OR (puts tinfoil hat on) is she working for Micah and Eric?

lori said...

Good question Paula. I have often wondered this myself.

Advance Indiana said...

Paula she is from Chicago originally. She worked in the administration of Gov. Bob Orr 20 years ago--not even close to being a big player according to people I know who were big players in that administration--although she thinks differently. She will tell people that Gov. Orr was the first to adopt a non-discrimination policy towards gays and lesbians--may have been true at an unofficial level--but nothing was ever formally adopted.

As for working for Miller or Clark or the Republicans, there are people who have speculated on that before. It's not the case, but it might as well be given the results.

Kevin said...

In answer to one of your questions.....I received the list of contributors from both David & Susan and IE's lobbyist DID make financial contributions.

I think this dialog is constructive and addresses things that need to be addressed. The fact that these issues are even being challenged shows that finally the involvement and awareness level of the local GLBT community is probably higher than its ever been. Through all of this, new activists and new leaders are emerging.

lori said...

Thanks for that info Kevin and my apologies to the IE lobbyest.

lori said...

Oops. Make that lobbyist.

Annette said...

As a member of Region 8 and president of the Indianapolis Chapter of PFLAG, I'd like to say a few things.

First, I, along with another PFLAG member, represent our organization at Region 8 board meetings. We were both chosen by our PFLAG chapter to represent our group. We DO NOT serve at the discretion of one person - we were chosen by our chapter to do so. My co-PFLAGer was also elected to chair a committee on Region 8. She was elected at an open election which was democratically run. In addition, she serves on the "main" IE board as our chapter's representative, again chosen by our PFLAG chapter.

Second, PFLAG worked WITH Indiana Equality to help pass the HRO. I don't know if PFLAG could have done this alone without the coalition. We were in constant contact with IE and we were never "forced" to do anything we didn't feel was appropriate. Believe me, we were never "controlled".

I know there are problems. Maybe I'm naive, but I hope that these issues can be laid out on the table and discussed. After all, IE is an umbrella organization - they can't exist without the various groups. The GLBT community and it's straight allies have enough to contend with - we all came together to fight a common enemy - not each other. I hope things can be worked out.

Advance Indiana said...

Annette--the comments are not directed at Region 8. You are correct, each group which participates in Region 8 selects its own representative to sit at the table in an advisory capacity. Region 8 is not the statewide organization, which is run by Ms. Sarris. Region 8 has no say in who those officers are. By the way--I sat on a committee with you to draw up Region 8's bylaws. I remember being appalled to sit down for one of those meetings and hear Bruce Clark and Jerame Davis announce in advance who the new Region 8 officers were going to be before there was any discussion or consultation with the full group. IE decided who was going to be Region 8's Chair, not Region 8. Bruce Clark had not even lived in the state of Indiana a year and was made a statewide officer. This is an insult to the entire GLBT community that someone with no ties to Indiana at all would be elevated in this fashion. The legislative co-chairs have absolutely no political experience. It's a little clique that's calling all the shots. I'm not going to play parlor gazmes which a bunch of political neophytes who have no business being in charge.

Annette said...

Thank you for your response. I understand what you are saying. I do have a question though. As a member of Region 8, I have no political background. My main purpose of working for GLBT rights is to ensure equality and fairness for my son and other GLBT sons and daughters. I am coming into this with a bit of a different perspective. Not all of us are politically astute. Don't you think there is room for all of us?

Advance Indiana said...

Yes--I don't see the problem as being with the other groups working together for a common cause. I see it as the way the umbrella organization, in this case IE, is being run that is the source of the problem. The greatest strength comes from the cooperative work of the other organizations

Bruce said...

FYI - my last name is Parker - thanks!!!