Jerame Davis

Bart Peterson - A True Indiana Hero

Filed By Jerame Davis | March 20, 2008 2:35 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics

Indiana (and particularly Indianapolis) has seen better days. We're in economic recession across the state. Indianapolis has seen property taxes skyrocket and foreclosure rates here are the highest in the nation. Jobs are stagnant and the price of everything is rising faster than just about everyone's income. This November is going to be interesting to say the least.

petersonhalo.jpgIn terms of queer issues, however, the past few years have been generally good for LGBT Hoosiers. Indianapolis got a Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) that protects nearly a quarter of the state's population and the heinous anti-gay marriage "protection" amendment failed miserably this year pushing back any possibility of referendum or passage for at least another 4 years.

We still don't have the right to keep a job, housing, or receive public accommodations (excepting those few localities that do have HROs, but no local HRO can be fully enforced without a change to state law.) And we still face attacks from the right wing trying to take away adoption rights and other despicable tactics.

Regardless, there has been more progression than regression in the past few years. Lots of amazing people worked on this fantastic progress and I honor every one of them. In light of that, there is one person I can say with conviction that changed the landscape to make it all possible - Bart Peterson.

Peterson's Democratic team in the City-County council, then led by our good friend Steve Talley, worked hard to turn around the votes necessary to win the HRO. Peterson and Talley worked together with community leaders to create a broad coalition to lobby, educate, and eventually create history. While Peterson didn't speak publicly in support of the HRO, his help behind the scenes was instrumental to the passage of this legislation. He personally spoke with councilors and helped with access to key city leaders for the LGBT community.

But that is only a small part of Peterson's legacy with the LGBT community. Everyone knows he was a friend throughout his two terms as mayor, but I propose that his biggest gesture to the queer community in Indiana was his stunning loss to Gregg Ballard in November of 2007.

You see, Peterson lost a race he should have won. He was a popular mayor running against a bumbling noname of an opponent and was cruising to reelection until the property tax (and COIT tax) issue exploded in his face. Every lawmaker in this state watched on election night as the Indianapolis Mayor was handed his ass by the newcomer and they all knew it was property taxes that did it.

So they all stood up and noticed. The 2008 short session of the Indiana General Assembly began with Democrats and Republicans alike scared shitless that they were next on the chopping block. This led to compromises, some actual hard work, and lo and behold they "fixed" property taxes.

But look what they left behind:

SJR-7 - The so-called "Marriage Amendment" again died in committee. While the Senate pressed on with hearings, they were poorly attended, roundly ignored, and pretty much solidified the kook status of the legislation's proponents like Senator Brandt Hershman and Eric Miller.

We didn't see a bill to prevent unmarried women from receiving fertility procedures like in-vitro fertilization. We didn't see a bill attempting to ban gay adoptions. We also didn't see any attempts to overturn local HROs as in years past.

There was some nincompoopery - Former US Rep. and forever douchbag Mike Sodrel provided the wingnutty Indiana Family Institute with two semi-trailers draping a huge sign that screamed, "Pass the marriage amendment NOW!" and Indiana's premier hate-monger Eric Miller had his Klan rally hatefest "Property tax and marriage protection" rally at the Statehouse. But for the most part, everyone was well behaved.

For all of this, the HRO, the death of SJR-7, and even the return of sanity to our state government, we have one person to thank for making it possible - Bart Peterson.

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Wilson46201 | March 21, 2008 9:38 AM

I don't share your peculiar enthusiasm for Steve Talley. He was the President of the City County Council when the HRO failed when it was first introduced. Steve Talley was one of the conservative Democrats who voted against the HRO. Not too friendly there, was he?

The HRO was re-introduced after Talley was dumped from the leadership of the Council. Julia Carson and Bart Peterson along with many others lobbied very hard and finally turned around Steve Talley's vote (along with 2 other Democrats). It finally passed.

Talley's instincts were to vote against LGBT folk -- it took much effort to turn him around. He didn't demonstrate any LGBT-friendly leadership in the entire HRO effort in Indianapolis.

Wilson, your facts and timeline are completely wrong.

Steve Talley was the leader of the council when the HRO passed. I should know, I and Bil were assigned to lobby him. It was Talley who put the HRO and the Police Merger together in the same meeting and passed both. It was Talley who personally changed Ron Gibson's vote. I was in the meetings, I was at the City-County council sessions and I have plenty of emails and other documentation to prove exactly what happened.

The HRO passed Dec 19, 2005 and Talley was thrown out of leadership in January 2006. He left the council in the spring of 2006 to work in the city gov't and ended up heading Animal Control, which was a present from Peterson for getting the HRO and Police Merger through.

That's how it happened. Yes, Talley voted against us the first time, but so did Abduallah and Gibson. Both were turned by Steve Talley, although Abduallah needed a bit more work.

So, yeah, I have a lot of respect for the guy who came around to see it our way in only a few short months.