Indianapolis is the 12th largest city in the United States, but you wouldn't know it from the way the LGBT community is treated. We had to scrape and fight to secure a human rights ordinance in 2005 that includes sexual orientation and gender identity after it failed earlier in the year when the Democrat controlled City-County Council couldn't muster enough votes to pass it. In the end, most Democrats who had voted against the measure earlier in the year switched their votes and two Republican councilors - Scott Keller (who co-sponsored it and is up for re-election this year) and Lance Langsford - also voted in favor of the ordinance.
One of the original Democratic "no" votes that switched and voted in favor of the HRO was Patrice Abduallah, a black Muslim councilor. Patrice had the district with the highest population of LGBT citizens - he represented Indianapolis's small "gay ghetto" area and we talked several times as I lobbied the council to pass the HRO. I became his token gay "friend." While he was clearly uncomfortable voting in favor of the resolution because of his religious beliefs, Patrice was ultimately the swing vote in favor of the ordinance. Yesterday, Patrice was forced to resign his seat on the council after it came to light that the house he had moved into was on the wrong side of the street to qualify as his district.
Speculation has abounded as to who would be nominated as his successor on the City-County Council. While my calls to the Marion County Democratic Headquarters have so far been unreturned, I've now spoken with a few councilors off the record who have confirmed that Andre Carson, grandson of Congresswoman Julia Carson, will be the party-backed replacement. Carson, long rumored to be the Congresswoman's chosen successor, has no political experience so a bump to the Council would provide the background necessary to hold the seat. While I have nothing against Andre Carson (or his grandmother), I'm forced to wonder when the Indianapolis democrats would actually consider recruiting a gay candidate to represent the heavily gay district. While several political districts at all levels of government are drawn to ensure African-American representation, when do we get the right to represent ourselves?
In most major cities, the LGBT community has become a welcome ally in the political process. In Indiana, however, we're still generally ignored and snubbed by the powers that be. The Indiana Stonewall Democrats have a seat on the Indiana State Central Committee (which TBP contributor Ellen Andersen currently holds), but that's about it. We don't even have an openly gay elected official serving anywhere in the state!
In the last election, Tina Taviano ran for sheriff in the Ft. Wayne area as an out lesbian with full support from The Victory Fund. The last days of the campaign were brutally homophobic and she ended up losing the race. The message was sent loudly and clearly to gays and lesbian Hoosiers - the party will not defend you. You're on your own.
In our state legislature we've never been able to round up enough votes from the straight representatives who sit in judgement of our lives to even pass standard civil rights legislation that includes us. No hate crimes legislation either; we're one of the handful of states without a hate crimes law. While we beat back a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions, it wasn't because legislators were gay friendly, per se - only that the amendment over-reaches so dramatically it would affect domestic violence protections and domestic partner benefits already in place. Plus, it's not as if the amendment were defeated; it tied in committee and will more than likely come back in next years General Assembly session.
Obviously the Marion County Democratic Party is following in the footsteps of the state party. After giving us lip service on the committee, the state party has virtually ignored our needs ever since. Since passing the HRO, the county party has apparently decided we've advanced far enough lately.
Perhaps the party could worry more about representing the diversity that comes with being the 12th largest city in America than setting a would-be successor on his way to Congress via the City-County Council. (Since the Democratic precinct committeepersons will elect the new councilor, I'm hearing that folks are starting to get appointed to the precinct to stack the deck and ensure a Carson victory. With Patrice unopposed in the general election, whomever is appointed now will serve the next four years as well. With Julia Carson in poor health, I'm not sure how long Andre Carson would stay on the council before jumping ship to the Congressional seat.) I know I'd feel better knowing that someone with my issues is there to represent those issues. The LGBT community of Indianapolis should immediately contact the county party at (317) 637-3366 and demand that Patrice's old seat be given to an LGBT person. We have seats that are guaranteed to be represented by black people as part of the party's stand for diversity. I want the same guarantee for our people.
Now we just have to find someone who'd be willing to stand up and be the first openly LGBT person on the council. Any suggestions on who it should be? Remember, they have to live in the district.