‘They Want To Kick You Out And Make You Leave Your Home State. That’s Not Right.’
Three gay people from Indiana explain
what the ‘freedom law’ means to them.
Interviews by Lauren Smiley
Bret is a 24-year-old native of Indiana. He works at a youth theater in Fort Wayne, Indiana’s second-largest city in the northeastern part of the state. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity: He really is that witty.
“Fort Wayne is a Midwestern city. There’s a lot of camo. They say it’s the city of saints and sinners, because there’s just as many steeples as there are strip clubs. The hills are not alive with the sound of gay.
“I’m privileged because I work in theater, which is a really accepting community — but in general, I feel unsafe more often than I feel safe in this city. My gay roommates and I walk around downtown and all the time we hear things yelled out of cars: Usually ‘queer’ or ‘faggots.’ When I was in college here, I probably noticed a lot more looks, just because of the way I dress. I couldn’t say I’m the most obnoxious with fashion, but… I didn’t dress like I’m from here.
“I came out when I was 19 and I don’t care if people know I’m gay, but I also don’t shout it to the roof, I guess. I went to Chicago Pride last summer and being in that environment — around people who are proud to be who they are — I realized that being gay didn’t mean being a certain something, just that there’s another layer to your onion, so to speak.
“The right to marry got here and I’m like, ‘Yes! Indiana is turning around — well, the people are not turning around, but the law is turning around.’ But then this law got here and I’m like… maybe not.
“I’ve never personally been turned away from a business for any reason. Still, I don’t want my tax dollars to go to something like this: I’m paying them for them to decide whether they’re going to let people discriminate against me.
“My roommates and I have been talking about the law all the time. Some close friends are like: Here’s an article explaining what’s happening on Facebook, and, of course, it’s a Christian article trying to explain it’s not happening.
“You know that pizzeria that said they wouldn’t serve gays in the news? My roommate said I could order 20 pizzas online for an orgy and you’d never know.
“I grew up a mile south of the Michigan border in Bristol, Indiana, a bustling metropolis of two stoplights! I had girlfriends in high school. At the beginning, I didn’t realize being gay was an option because no one else was gay that I knew of. I would say that by my senior year, I knew and it became more of a beard situation.
“I’m very happy that a lot of public things and known things [celebrities, companies] are being so vocal about their opposition to the law. My history professor said nothing will change until a large group of unimportant people rise up, or a few very important people stand up. I hope this thing gets crushed because both things happen.
“But when the law got passed, I’m like what am I doing here? I was really active in phone-banking around gay marriage, but do I have another campaign in me? Indiana is wishy-washy. Why am I here when I could be in an accepting state? That was the biggest struggle: do I stay or do I go now? But then I think: that’s what they want to happen — they want to kick you out and make you leave your home state. That’s not right. I should feel safe in my own state.
“I think I’m heading to a bigger city eventually, because I like bigger cities. But if the whole law ended in a positive light for the LGBT community, I would be more likely to stay, that’s for sure.”
Emily is a 19-year-old music major at Indiana University in Bloomington, who identifies as queer. She grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and helped organize a protest march last weekend. We talked over Facebook.
Joel is a 30-year-old gay man who grew up in a suburb of Indianapolis, and went to DePauw University, a liberal arts college in central Indiana. Street moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2007 to complete a PhD in classics at the University of California, Berkeley.
“In the past week, there was a moment I felt more like a Hoosier than a Californian. One of the San Francisco Twitter personalities tweeted about Indiana, saying what a shitty state. I’m pretty critical of my home state, but that crosses that line. It was simplistic, and made me feel alienated. Like these people should all just move to the Bay Area! Like the Bay Area is just bustling with affordable housing for people from Indiana! It’s such a cop-out. Justice matters everywhere, you can’t just say ‘get out of there.’
“Indiana is a funny hodgepodge of people: Indianapolis is light blue, the suburbs are very red, but not all evangelical. The south of the state looks more like the South, but then there’s a lot of industrial stuff in the north. The whole state has plenty of idiots, but it never felt to me like a Deep, Deep South state where you had an easy consensus. In Indiana, conservatives often had a majority, but it wasn’t something they could coast on. There were more surprises — a Midwestern streak, like ‘wait a second.’
“So, this aggressive strain of going out of your way to discriminate has rubbed a lot of Hoosiers the wrong way. I grew up in a somewhat white-collar suburb called Carmel. My parents have stopped voting Republican in the last decade, but my friends’ parents who are still Republican are against this law because they see it as anti-business.
“Marc Benioff saying he wouldn’t send Salesforce employees there any more was smart, targeted, and not vindictive. I also liked Angie’s List announcing they weren’t going to expand their Indianapolis campus, which is a big force of revitalization in that part of town. But the calls to boycott the whole state — it seems like a blunt instrument. It damages Indiana companies that were actually doing their best on LGBT rights. It reinforces all sorts of feelings of self hate that a closeted kid in Indiana would have anyways.
“This whole ordeal is an embarrassment for the state. I personally feel that. I saw David Letterman, who’s from Indianapolis, making fun of [governor] Mike Pence. I don’t think Hoosiers are used to being mocked nationally in this way. It’s not like being from Alabama or California or Florida that get regularly mocked.
“As for Pence changing his mind this week, I’m happy to hear it, but it’s also so duplicitous. Don’t pretend you just discovered what this was all about. Pence is just the first bully not to get away with it.”