Bil Browning

Who's responsible for Indiana Equality's anti-ENDA stance?

Filed By Bil Browning | July 01, 2009 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics

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.

IElogo.pngIn 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)*
John Clower
Steve Everett**
Robb Minich**
Brandon Monson (Communications Director of Indiana Equality Action)
Randy Studt (Vice President of Indiana Equality Action)*
Jim Trulock**
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.

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Jeff Newman | July 1, 2009 10:50 PM

I don't have any reason to retract my comment, but I regret that I singled out Indiana Equality (they were just the one I was asked about). Truth is, since the demise of Diversity, Inc. I've pretty much avoided involvement in any of the GLBT organizations because of the drama factor (with the obvious exception of the delightfully drama-free Indy Rainbow Chamber). I don't read the blogs any more for the same reason, with this being one more obvious exception since I was told I had been quoted in this post.

I'd like to offer a clarification regarding my name being listed on the Indiana Equality site: I was never a board member, but rather an alternate representative of the Chamber. For those who don't know and may not have picked up on this from Bil's post, Indiana Equality is actually a coalition of organizations, not a stand-alone org (I'm not sure, but I think the trick to penetrating the "tight-knight group" is to join the coalition).

Drama or no drama, I probably would have attended a meeting had it been necessary, but the Chamber's regular representative (Jon Keep) was never absent so they had no reason to ask me fill in. Our treasurer, Tara Betterman, has been the alternate for a few months now; I think IE just neglected to update the site until it was pointed out.

Good or bad, the current Chamber board is not very political and prefers to stay business focused, so the ENDA issue not coming up at a board meeting would have been just one of many. To be honest, if Jon is missing from a meeting the political update portion of the board meeting agenda generally gets skipped over. I just looked up the minutes from May and June, and he did in fact miss both of those meetings and no political issues, including ENDA, were discussed.

Personally, I'm not sure how I feel about the issue at hand (IE's ENDA position). When I read the original post when it was cross-posted on the gayindy listserv, it was presented as gross malfeasance on the part of Indiana Equality, but I thought the ensuing comments had some pretty well-reasoned and thoughtful arguments for both positions.

Thanks for commenting, Jeff. I wanted to respond to a couple of items.

For those who don't know and may not have picked up on this from Bil's post, Indiana Equality is actually a coalition of organizations, not a stand-alone org (I'm not sure, but I think the trick to penetrating the "tight-knight group" is to join the coalition).

Actually, that is factually incorrect. You've fallen for the same "Which name is which now?" problem several people are having - me included. Indiana Equality is not a coalition of orgs. Under the IE umbrella there are now three stand-alone orgs - IE, IE Action, & IE PAC. All three are incorporated with the government, have their own bank accounts and leadership.

I think what you are referring to is IE Action's board makeup. Different organizations can join IE Action and send representatives to the board; those groups commit to paying IE a sizable sum of cash for the "honor" of belonging. Each group chooses a representative and an alternate, but only gets one vote between the two reps.

Therefore, the "trick" to joining the group isn't to "join the coalition" - unless you're an organization with cash to burn. Average Jo/e isn't welcome to sit on the IE Action board - and IE board members are mostly IE Action board members.

When I read the original post when it was cross-posted on the gayindy listserv, it was presented as gross malfeasance on the part of Indiana Equality, but I thought the ensuing comments had some pretty well-reasoned and thoughtful arguments for both positions.

I think that simplifies things too much. It can be gross malfeasance while still spurring a lively and interesting discussion.

The organization has put the votes of four Indiana Congressmen in jeopardy - Congressmen who will be voting on federal legislation to give us employment rights that Indiana Equality has not been able to secure for Hoosiers. All four of the Congressmen are squeemish about ENDA because of its inclusion of transgender rights and IE's controversial stance provides them with cover for not voting in favor of our civil rights.

Its almost as if IE hasn't been able to win the state-level battle for protections for the LGBT community so they're trying to undermine successful efforts by others. This is a common complaint about Indiana Equality and her sister groups.

This is BS. How are all the other organizations that support LGBT rights who are ACTUALLY TRYING TO DO SOMETHING supposed to survive when we have IE actively working AGAINST US? We need to come together as a community if we hope to ever reach anything close to the equality being fought for and won by states like Iowa, Vermont, or Maine. We need to have an Indiana LGBT Rights Caucus with ALL groups present to ensure this kind of crap doesn't happen. I may be just a lowly peon of an infant LGBT Activist organization (Indy Impact), but knowing all the time and effort I spend working towards equality can be overshadowed and truncated by the Big Bad (IE) Wolf has a serious effect on Morale and OUR ability to organize events here in Indianapolis.

But in the end - that's fine. As IE takes a "Non-GLBT" stance, they will see that they are no longer the big dog who will bring equality to Indiana. I'm fine with that. If you're not going to support equality, then step down, get out of the way, and let us "little guys" do what we do best, and actually get something done. We're still willing to fight for what we believe in and WE won't hide behind "Closed Membership," but rather encourage involvement from EVERYONE in the LGBT community.

Considering most groups have been invited to IE - isn't there a way for us to actually attend a meeting and possibly voice our "concern" over these issues? The longer this is allowed to fester and remain unresolved, the more cleanup EVERYONE will have to endure before actually progress can be made. We need to take care of this little fiasco ASAP and it seems going directly to the source, attending one of their meetings, regardless of membership, is the quickest way to get answers.

I'm sure they will invite Indy Impact to a meeting after they read your comment, Zac. The question becomes then, does Indy Impact want to join a small clique of folks who's only qualification for leadership is because they belong to an organization? That still doesn't help the average Hoosier have a say in how the group is ran. And again, organizations can't join Indiana Equality - only Indiana Equality Action. The board members of IE are hand selected by their board. The group is self-perpetuating and insular.

Since I know a bit of Indy Impact's history with IE and IE Action, I'd ask a simple question. Did they support your efforts or try to discourage them? Would you say your LGBT activism has been helped by IE/IE Action or hindered? Have any of their representatives attended one of the many rallies you've held? Have they given Indy Impact any financial or organizational support? And, finally, how many actions has IE/IE Action held this year vs how many Indy Impact has had?

I think you'll find that like the condemnation of ENDA, IE and IE Action are discouraging the Indiana LGBT community's progress simply because they're not at the forefront. If they can't/won't do it no one else should either. They're unable to win us rights at a state level, therefore a federal effort needs to be subverted to keep the crown on their own heads.