The Indianapolis community got an early Christmas gift this year--and not just the gay community. The Indianapolis City-County Council, by an agonizingly close margin, amended the city's Human Rights Ordinance. The ordinance now protects against discrimination in employment or housing based upon sexual orientation or gender identity. In what should be the true spirit of the season, the Council has opted for inclusion rather than division, and for "good will" to all Indianapolis residents.
Like all morality tales, there are lessons to be learned from the saga that preceded this historic vote.
The first such lesson is the importance of civic education and political mobilization. People do not just wake up one morning and decide to be fair rather than unjust. It requires work. In this case, it required a concerted effort by members of the gay community and those of us in the straight community (of whom there are a lot!) who realize that human rights are meaningless unless all humans have them. The true haters, of course, are beyond redemption (if I may be forgiven for using so theological a phrase). But many people, including several City Council members, originally opposed this amendment simply because they didn't understand the issues, or didn't believe that discriminatory treatment was real. A genuinely organized effort by the gay community and its allies had to be mounted to counter the misinformation and disinformation. That effort took an immense amount of time and effort--and money.
During the holidays, everyone should feel entitled to relax and enjoy this victory. But the work is far from done. The second lesson to learn from this wonderful success is that we must not allow the coalitions and alliances that were formed to lapse. The effort to communicate and educate must continue.
Finally, perhaps the most important lesson of all is the one our mothers taught us: to say "thank you" in the most meaningful way possible to those who worked so hard on behalf of good government and fundamental fairness. Eric Miller, Curt Smith and their allies can be counted on to wage war on the council sponsors of the amendment. Scott Keller and Jackie Nytes worked tirelessly to pass this measure. As a result, they will both face considerable opposition in the next election cycle. In Scott's case, his own party will do everything it can to defeat him--James Bradford, a right-wing Republican counselor, has already proposed "ejecting" him from the GOP caucus, presumably on the basis that loyalty to the party line should trump both integrity and service to one's constituents.
If efforts to defeat Scott or Jackie are successful, it will send a very damaging message to other lawmakers struggling with decisions affecting civil rights. Those of us who are grateful for their efforts have an obligation to ensure that doesn't happen. Not just because nice people say "thank you," but because self-interest requires it.
So, add two gifts to your holiday list. Send early campaign contributions to Scott and Jackie. In this case, giving is not only better than receiving, it is absolutely necessary if the gay community is to continue progress toward receiving the most precious gift of all: Equal Rights.