Bil Browning

Pro gay marriage rally in small town Indiana

Filed By Bil Browning | August 22, 2007 10:10 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Columbus, Indiana, LGBT civil rights, marriage, protest, Republicans

Columbus.jpgHere in the Hoosier state we're known for being, shall we say, a little conservative. I've lived in a few different cities around the state, but one of my least favorite places that I've lived was Columbus. It's a small, podunk town that has a "We're better than you!" attitude that it doesn't deserve. Originally home to three Fortune 500 companies, the sleepy town has amazing architecture thanks to all the rich executives that have lived there through the years. Unfortunately, it also has the Republican leanings that come with a bunch of rich folks running a small town...

So how refreshing was it to see that a pro gay marriage protest was held in Columbus? You'll notice that the Columbus Republic newspaper saw fit to give the protest three (very) small paragraphs. (After having done gay activism in Columbus and knowing everything that those poor folks have to do to live a halfway decent life surrounded by conservative idiots I'm actually shocked that the Republic would even cover the event. Usually they'd simply ignore anything not endorsed by the Republican party!)

About 25 gathered for Marital Freedom March at Mill Race Park beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Gay and straight people of all ages showed their support for same-sex marriages and voiced their goals for equal rights among gay couples.

The group marched from the park to Bartholomew County Courthouse and back to the park, as they chanted phrases including, "legalize equality," "support gay marriage" and "gay rights are civil rights."

Look after the jump for some commentary from a witness.

It was small, but with great heart. The march started in Mill Race Park, down Washington Street to 2nd, over to Brown, and back to the park. There was much chanting and slogans. The police were great, stopping traffic for the march wherever necessary. I felt like Grandpa, or a chaperone. There weren't more than three of us over the age of twenty-something. The average age was closer to 19. As far as I could tell most of the participants were straight teenagers. There was not a single participant who I knew, except my partner...

This afternoon wasn't well attended, and it had the feel of a high school pep rally. But it had a great sense of mission. I was very happy to see so many young people take interest in the way the world works, and how they can change it for the better. I was a little taken aback by the weird hair, tats, and piercings. However, they were there and nobody else was. I hope they aren't discouraged by the total lack of interest shown by the rest of Columbus.

Isn't that spectacular? If anyone needs further confirmation that the young people around the country don't swing as conservative as their elders, look no further. These were a bunch of straight teenagers! Our grassroots building efforts have to include the younger generation. As we move into the future these folks will be the leaders of our state and country.

Thank God.

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Do you know who organized this event?

This is exactly the type of rally that's needed in Indiana but on a larger scale. It would have been more heavily attended if people knew about it.

Michael Bedwell | August 22, 2007 2:28 PM

One of my oldest, now former, friends lives in Columbus, and I spoke to a college [IUPUI?] extension class there many moonings ago. I'm sorry to learn that support for gays there apparently still doesn't exist much beyond the walls of Cummins, though, trust they have yet to surrender to local and bussed-in American Talibaners and still have gay employment protection and domestic partner benefits given their statement on SJR-7 this spring.

Columbus native and out former Mr. America & Mr. Universe Bob Paris would also probably be disappointed. I remember being saddened to learn from his first book that while we at IU were feeling pretty good about the progress that was being made in Bloomington and the great gay awareness conferences we were having with speakers like Frank Kameny and Troy Perry and Elaine Noble and Leonard Matlovich, he was a lonely, tormented teenager, roughly just an hour away, who still thought he was "the only one." And, in later books, he's written of how, however proud and out he is, he still fights those old demons and hurts a little every day.

For many of us, it's not just in autumn Hoosier woods that one finds bittersweet, but, too, in the lyrics of Hoagy Carmichael's "Can't Get Indiana Off My Mind."

The event was organized by one of the teens and his parents. It wasn't sponsored or coordinated with any group as far as I know.

But sometimes spontaneous can be good. :)

Gene Maresca | August 22, 2007 6:57 PM

Somebody hasn't spent much time in Columbus in recent years, I think.

For example, last December the Columbus Human Rights Commission changed their procedures to allow investigation and mediation in cases of discrimination against LGB AND T folks, making the protections roughly equal to what Bloomington has to offer. There is an active Gay/Straight Alliance made up almost 50/50 of LGBT and their straight allies which was involved with this project and with all those that follow.

The Human Rights Commission had received almost 100 letters of support for this from community leaders.

We just had our annual G/SA picnic with, as always, the blessings of the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department, and FIRST annual film showing.

Past co-coordinators of the G/SA have received the county's coveted Laws Award for Human Rights two out of the past three years.

The Columbus Police department has a liason officer to our group who has proven to be a real asset.

Work is ongoing with G/SA's at both High Schools.

LGBT folk have been a focus of the Welcoming Community Project of the county's largest philanthropic foundation.

The AIDS Action Fund held their second fundraising dinner and, later in the year, their fourth or was it fifth) fundraising concert.

Were you maybe thinking of Columbus, GEORGIA ?

Gene, What a blast from the past to read about the meeting that night of the city council to pass Bloomington's FIRST Gay Rights Ordinance (btw it was in December of 1975 - not '74). I was also there!! Gee i would love to chat with you - or anyone else who was there that nite - to reminisce! I too remember the heated debate and the bible thumpers which filled up the room and packed into the back of the Municipal Bldg room. As i rememember the fire marshall got involved because the room was bursting at the seams and was spilling out the back doors into the hallway. The LGBT community sat on the left side of the room and the vocal, shrill religious fanatics on the right side. I remember Frank McCloskey was mayor. I also remember an impassioned plea in favor of gay rights and the ordinance by city councilwoman Charlotte Zeitlow which i will never forget Charlotte is still a Bloomington institution! As a young person who had just come out earlier that year i was 19 years old) it was an incredible moment to see Straight allies like Charlotte and our Mayor speaking up for our community. It made a great impression and gave me hope for a better future. It also made me incredibly proud to be a Bloomingtonian!
Given that i write this on June 28th 2009 - on the 40th Anniversary of Stonewall - I would love to hear from others who "were there" in the room that historic night.

Yes, Columbus, Indiana, (adopted hometown also, BTW, of recording artist John Cougar Mellencamp) has made highly admirable progress in its community regard for LGBT people.

A previous comment mentioned Bob Paris (Thank you, Michael!) and I would like to mention a former Columbus resident, Brian de St. Croix.

Brian De St. Croix was elected to the Bloomington City Council in the mid-1970's, and was President of the Council when Bloomington passed its first codification of an extension of their Human Rights Ordinance that included gay/lesbian protections. (This first extension of the Bloomington HRO passed circa 1974, and had the force of law --- but it soon was eviscerated of its power by Indiana state law.) Brian wasn't officially out when elected, but everyone "in the know" in Bloomington was aware that Brian himself was gay. Later, Brian did come out publicly right before the critical HRO vote. I attended the City Council meeting when the HRO extension passed, and I saw the evangelicals waving their Bibles in the air and predicting that Bloomington would burn like Sodom and Gomorrah.

Times were rougher then, even in Bloomington. For his outspokenness, Brian received several death threats --- and Brian took them seriously enough that he adopted a well-trained Great Dane, who become his constant companion and "bodyguard". I remember encountering Brian as he walked his friend, who literally was as big as a small horse.

Brian was also an executive at Cummins Engine in Columbus. I don't know the details of his influence internally at Cummins, but I feel certain that their progressive attitudes were at least partly to the credit of the presence of and corporate contribution made by Brian de St. Croix.

I have been told that Brian died in Louisville in the late 1990's due to complications of HIV/AIDS. He deserves to be remembered.

This just came in over e-mail about this post and I thought I'd post it here for all to see:

Message: I was recently surfing the web and came across an article you wrote regarding my brother Brian De St Croix in 2007. It was nice to read a memory of him but just to set the record Brian died of a heart attack in 1995. He was driving back from a meeting when it happened. Thank you for the memories.