Alice Walker once said, "The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any." Nothing is truer in our current political landscape. Mired by partisanship, the lack of compromise, and political definitions that are more discriminatory in nature than a vast majority of the European conquests of yesteryear's disparaging racial labels, we have entered into an era of divisiveness that cannot be tamed without realizing our power.
Over the last few days since I announced my decision to leave the Republican Party, I've been pressed on all angles. I've seen the hundreds of thousands of comments on multiple blogs and political commentary sites. I've even responded to a few of you. (I'm looking at you, Joe. My. God. readers.)
I've been called countless names, screamed at, had terrible messages lobbed at me, and even had some people threatening to kill me because I "slammed the GOP" and "I do not understand the damage that I have done."
The reality of the situation is this, and it's fairly simple -- I finally stood up for what I believed in.
The Story Behind a Life-Altering Decision
For years, I have sat back in the political landscape and "toed the line". I've done a lot for the state of Indiana, including providing countless hours of work on education policy that has completely transformed the way our state's children are taught. I've worked to roll back initiatives during the Bennett administration to help better protect our teachers and I've worked tirelessly to provide equal access to preschoolers from disadvantaged families.
I've been fighting House Joint Resolution 3 (formerly HJR 6) for the past 5 years -- and for the last 3, as a Republican.
What people don't always realize is that sometimes, you need someone on the inside that helps change the way things work. It's about relationships, not about divisiveness. Sure, I could have done what everyone else does -- scream at the top of my lungs until I couldn't scream anymore about how much injustice the Republican Party lobs at minority groups.
I chose not to. I chose to be a part of a structure that helped me make change, not destroy it with rhetoric that may not have ever been constructive.
One comment that's frequently come up in the blogosphere is this: "You just now realized that the Republican Party left you? Did you look at their 1994 platform?!"
I've known for a long time that the political policies of the Republican Party -- on the social conservative side -- did not match up with my own. But as my mother has always told me, I can do anything I put my mind to. So 3 years ago, I set out on a journey to change the hearts and minds of Republican politicians. I hoped that just knowing someone in the LGBT community would help change their minds.
Some call it naïveté, others call it bravery. I don't call it either -- I just call it standing up and doing the right thing. And for the past 3 years, I've done just that: I've sat down with Republican politicians and I've helped form relationships that have been lasting. They respect me and I respect them, just as it should be.
The Breaking Point
Last week I had finally had enough. After years of beating down doors and trying to help change the landscape of Indiana politics, it became clear to me that the Republican Party wasn't going to change. Speaker Bosma's unprecedented move -- transferring HJR-3 from one committee to another because he couldn't get enough votes -- stung. It stung hard.
Now the GOP doesn't have an excellent record on LGBT rights, but neither does the Democratic Party in Indiana. If you'll recall, our Democratic senator, Joe Donnelly, refused to support marriage equality during the 2012 election. Our Democratic gubernatorial candidate didn't support it either. The unique thing about Indiana is that we're a pretty conservative state, but we don't take kindly to our liberties being taken away.
That brings me to the present day. Last week, I didn't think I was doing anything extraordinary. I just wanted to take a stand and tell my constituents that I could no longer serve as a candidate to a party that did not have my or their best interests at heart.
You see, I live in a district with a fairly large LGBT population. A sizable portion of the Indianapolis "gayborhood" is located within our borders, along with two of the city's largest gay bars. I wasn't just fighting for me, I was fighting for all of us. I had to take a stand and say, "Enough is enough."
Working for the People
The thing about politicians today is that they have lost sight of the fact that they work for the people. I haven't ever lost sight of that. My goal has always been to serve my district; it's never been to serve special interests or groups outside of my district.
When I filed the committee paperwork to declare my candidacy last year, Democratic blogs called me a "Republican to watch for" because of just how much I don't align with the party. But my experience proves that it's just hard to stand out by yourself.
I am probably one of the only pro-choice, pro-marriage equality Republicans to have ever set foot in the state of Indiana. A lot of people ask how this is possible, especially given my Mormon background. Well, it's simple really: my religious beliefs do not belong in governance.
I think our elected politicians need to be reminded of that.
If I want to promote the people of my district and if I truly want to serve, my beliefs are not what matters. It's my constituents' beliefs that matter. That's what made this decision so much easier. I realized that my constituents wouldn't want this. They wouldn't want to have one of their biggest champions to be a member of a party that didn't support them.
What I hope people take away from this isn't that some member of the LGBT community finally had a moment of enlightenment. I did it because I wanted Indiana Republicans to realize that they are alienating their own people.
I wanted them to realize that my LGBT brothers and sisters are humans, too, and that this malicious amendment affects them and hurts them more than anything. I wanted them to realize that what they're doing is wrong and that it hurts not only me, but an entire group of people who deserve nothing but love, compassion and respect.
I once read a quote by Henry David Thoreau that has resonated with me ever since: "I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor." That's why I chose to take a stand and say no. I chose to elevate my life by standing in the face of adversity and saying, "No more."
Hope for the Future
Today begins a new era: the first day that we stop sitting by and accepting the status quo. Today is the day that we say to those who would deny us our rights, "We are people too, and you will respect us."
I haven't given up. I may have left the Republican Party, but I am still in this race. I will fight to protect and serve not only the LGBT community, but any group that is affected by intolerance. I will serve everyone who stands up for what they believe in and I will be a voice for those who do not have a voice of their own.
It doesn't matter which banner I serve under, whether it is Republican, Democratic, or Libertarian. All that matters is that I serve and I serve with the dignity and respect that the people of my district are owed.
I, along with you, will be the voice that needs to be heard throughout the Hoosier State. We will be better, stronger and more courageous than ever. We will fight the fight for LGBT equality and we will win. We will never resign our liberty and we most certainly will not fail.