Bil Browning

LGBT community to gain new advocate in Statehouse

Filed By Bil Browning | March 05, 2008 8:25 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics

Mary Ann Sullivan will talk your ear off. The state legislature candidate can talk about all of the regular Democratic talking points and then some. She may be a newbie to the political scene, but she knows her stuff and she's obviously a quick learner.

Sullivan is running for Indiana House district 97 - the seat currently held by Republican Jon Elrod. Elrod is currently running in the special election against Andre Carson for Indiana's 7th Congressional District. She doesn't have a primary opponent and no Republicans have filed to run. Unless the Republicans scare up a candidate somewhere, the seat will flip back to Democratic hands. Sullivan's hands.

We sat down for lunch yesterday to get acquainted and talk about local politics and LGBT issues. More than likely, she won't be on Eric Miller's Christmas card list, but some of her answers may shock you. Sullivan supports same-sex marriage and promises to champion two gay rights bills if elected. To pull off wins on our issues though, she's going to need to do a lot of talking.

When she reminded me that she'd tried to challenge Andre Carson for his seat on the City-County Council, I realized I was dealing with a real spitfire. After all, she'd just soundly defeated City-County Councilor Dane Mahern at the Democratic slating convention. Mahern, like Carson, comes from a family famous for involvement in local politics. Sullivan, however, likes to buck the machine; I like that about her.

She's a grassroots organizer at heart who's tired of politics as usual. We had a great lunch talking about charter schools, books and the hazards of campaigning. When we swung around to the LGBT questions, lunch was finished and we went on the record. Bottom line? Like most progressive Hoosiers, she's not the best versed on the detailed ins and outs of our issues, but her gut instinct is gay friendly and her willingness to lead on our behalf is refreshing.

BB: A constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions died this year, but right wing legislators will try to use it as a wedge issue again. If it comes back up for consideration, where do you stand on the issue?

MS: I'm totally opposed on several different levels. Putting that in the constitution makes zero sense. Just doing it at all limits the civil rights of all people; it's hard for me to fathom. I would be very strongly 100% opposed and would be forward about that - aggressively so.

BB: Do you think gays and lesbians in Indiana should be able to get married or have civil unions?

MS: It wouldn't bother me. Civil unions are no problem at all - it's a semantics thing. How do you define marriage? That's up to churches and the religion people want the blessing of. The state should only be involved in civil unions. I'd fall on the side of marriage, but I'm okay with civil unions. It depends on what a civil union is - the definition - if people aren't on the same page it causes difficulties. As a legislator I'd need to know exactly what the language is since it [civil unions] seems to be a generic term. That's why we should stick with marriage.

BB: What about civil rights legislation that includes sexual orientation and gender identity?

MS: I support it. It's really mind boggling to me that we're still trying to make sure everyone in the US has civil rights. It is something that's fundamental to living in a just society. To exclude certain groups of people - the concepts don't make sense. I pledge to co-sponsor the legislation and will make it a priority. I'm willing to take on some of the social agenda items some folks are squeamish about.

We have to personalize and paint the picture that allows people to see what "is" without hiding behind religion or their interpretation of existing traditions or whatever. When you bring it down to the human level its easier for people to see things. My common theme is "It's always about people." All people should have same level of dignity and respect.

BB: What do you think about hate crimes and recent attempts to pass hate crimes legislation in Indiana? We're one of the last five states to enact this.

MS: They deserve special attention. There is just something particularly insulting and dangerous to all of our culture as a society about a hate crime. It's not just attacking an individual it is attacking a community. It defines your culture by the types of thing society identifies as particularly reprehensible and I think we need to be clear that targeting someone for a personal characteristic that is removed from who they are is reprehensible.

BB: LGBT youth are being targeted for beatings and death. Recently Larry King from California was gunned down in class by a schoolmate for asking the boy to be his valentine. As a gay man who was often bullied and beaten by classmates, would you be willing to sponsor anti-bullying legislation that's fully inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity?

MS: This is something I would champion. I think the Department of Education has looked into this; I'll check on it. I've worked in schools. Administrators turn a deaf ear and a blind eye when it is an issue they're uncomfortable with since it puts them in the position of having uncomfortable conversations with parents. It needs to be clear that all forms of bullying are unacceptable.

BB: Pro-choice or pro-life?

MS: Definitely pro-choice. It is a fundamental right for women to control their own bodies.

BB: Any gay friends or family?

MS: My best male friend is gay. I have friends and family members that are gay.

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