After news that Indiana's controversial LGBT organization will actively oppose federal legislation to outlaw employment discrimination shocked the state's LGBT community, many people were left wondering who's responsible. Other state and national LGBT organizations quickly denounced Indiana Equality's (IE) contentious stance.
In a June 16th blog entry, "Media Inquiry and ENDA Clarification," IE was ambiguous about which board members actually voted to oppose the top federal LGBT rights bill and a follow up media inquiry printed on the blog on June 24th was even less helpful.
While the original post claimed board members were "unanimous (with one abstention)," the second statement adds that two other members weren't present but doesn't specify which members voted for the new policy, who abstained and which members didn't vote. The organization didn't answer further requests for clarification, changed a public listing of board members, and refused to say how individual members voted.
The group's unaccountable decision has left many in the LGBT community with the realization that a small clique of people they don't know, didn't elect, and don't agree with have set themselves up to be the "leaders" of Indiana's gay rights movement.
But who are they? Who voted to jeopardize four Hoosier Congressmen's votes in favor of federal legislation to outlaw employment nondiscrimination shortly before it is decided on Capitol Hill?
A Confusing Tangle of Board Members and Tax Statuses
Indiana Equality is a 501(c)3 charity while Indiana Equality Action is the sister 501(c)4 not-for-profit. The (c)4 organization was originally called "Indiana Equality" and the (c)3 was called "Indiana Equality Education Fund." No explanation was given to the community for the confusing change of names/tax status for the groups.
IE's board members are self-selecting without community input. Board members among the two organizations commonly serve on both boards at the same time.
According to Indiana Equality's bylaws, "The corporation [Indiana Equality] shall have a minimum of three directors and collectively they shall be known as the Board of Directors. At the regular meeting of directors conducted annually in December directors shall be elected by the Board of Directors. Each director shall cast one vote per candidate, and may vote for as many candidates as the number of candidates to be elected to the Board. The candidates receiving the highest number of votes up to the number of directors to be elected shall be elected to serve on the Board. Additionally two members shall be selected by the Indiana Equality Action Board of Directors." (emphasis mine)
IE's bylaws allows the group to continually re-elect it's leaders without any membership or community input. The only selections not made by the already sitting board comes from the organization's sister group's board members. Community members cannot vote to elect an IE Action board member either; they are chosen representatives from other organizations that have joined under the IE Action coalition umbrella.
Asked whether or not a vote on the controversial resolution was unanimous, the group replied, "The Indiana Equality (IE) Board of Directors was unanimous (with one abstention) in its decision to support full lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) inclusion in the United States Civil Rights code."
The group clarified that no organizations voted on the resolution since "Indiana Equality does not have organizational members; we refer you to Indiana Equality Action (IE Action)."
Who's Really On the Indiana Equality Board?
IE lists board members on their website. Individual board members were asked for comment on the controversy and how they voted for previous articles. Board member Scott Keller confirmed that he was not present at any meeting where the resolution was voted on.
Two board members listed on the site denied being on the Indiana Equality or Indiana Equality Action boards. Reached for comment, listed IE board members Julie Anderton and Jeff Newman both denied any knowledge of the vote or any status as board members of the organization.
Anderton, listed as an HRC representative to the Indiana Equality Action board as well, also denied serving there or that HRC was represented at IE Action meetings. "To my knowledge, there isn't a HRC Indiana lead. You would have to ask HRC National," she said.
HRC spokesperson Brad Luna confirmed that the national organization is not involved with Indiana Equality. "There is nobody officially representing HRC, as an organization, on the board of Indiana Equality," he said. He stressed that the national gay rights organization often provided support for state-level groups but that HRC did not have a say in how the organization was ran; HRC did not vote on any resolution to oppose ENDA.
Newman, listed as a representative of the Indy Rainbow Chamber of Commerce on the Indiana Equality Action site too, went so far as to say he's never attended a board meeting of either organization. "I've never been to an IE board meeting or voted on any IE positions," he said. "IE historically has had a bit too much drama for my taste so I've always kept my distance."
He also said that the Rainbow Chamber, like HRC, did not have any discussions as an organization on whether to support a controversial position like opposing ENDA. The Rainbow Chamber has a voting representative on the board of Indiana Equality Action. That board member, Jon Keep, is the current board chair of Indiana Equality. IE has refused to say how Keep voted or if he attended the meeting.
After the group declined to clarify how individual board members voted, both organizations' websites were updated to reflect a new board makeup. Neither Newman nor Anderton are still listed as IE board members. HRC is still listed as an organizational member of Indiana Equality Action with active representatives although Anderton's name now has a line through it. Newman is no longer listed as an IE Action board member.
An Insular Group: The "Self-appointed Board"
Indianapolis blogger Gary Welsh had harsh words for the group's organizational structure after learning Indiana Equality will actively oppose ENDA. "It's funny that Indiana Equality would be concerned about segregation when that's what it practices daily in the operation of its organization. The tightly-knit group refuses to open up its membership and allow open and free elections of its board and leadership," he wrote.
"The primary goal of the self-appointed board and leaders of IE is to ensure the perpetuity of their control of the organization. You would think an organization that advocates equality would itself embrace equal treatment among the people it purports to represent."
Both IE and IE Action have many common board members. Eight board members of Indiana Equality also sit on the board of IE Action. One member, Scott Keller, is co-chair of IE's lobbying PAC. Only three board members out of twelve have no ties to IE's sister organizations.
The currently listed makeup of the board of Indiana Equality looks like this:
President - Kathy Sarris
Chair - Jon Keep
Treasurer - Dan Funk (Treasurer of Indiana Equality Action)
Secretary - Jessica Wilch
Walter Botich (President of Indiana Equality Action)*
Brandon Monson (Communications Director of Indiana Equality Action)
Randy Studt (Vice President of Indiana Equality Action)*
Scott Keller (Co-Chair of the Indiana Equality Political Action Committee - IE PAC)
* Elected by the board of Indiana Equality Action
**Does not sit on the board of Indiana Equality Action or IE PAC
With only Keller confirmed as not attending the meeting, the other member who missed the meeting and the member who abstained from voting are still unknown.
Indiana Equality was asked to provide the information but did not respond to repeated requests beyond what was printed on their blog.