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By The Elkhart Truth Editorial Board
Kevin Brinegar, Indiana Chamber of Commerce president, has made it clear where he stands on LGBT rights. It’s time for other leaders from across the state to step up and take a stand too.
Brinegar said business leaders wanted Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to use his State of the State address to announce support for extending statewide civil rights protections to Hoosiers based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
In doing so, Brinegar did exactly what a leader in this day and age should do — speak out for what he and his organization believe is best. It’s what other Hoosier leaders need to do on the local and state level.
As much as Gov. Pence wants it to be, the conversation about this issue isn’t over. The passage of a flawed bill in March 2015 hurt the state’s image and the ability to attract new businesses and potential new residents. Businesses such as Eli Lilly Corp., Angie’s List and the NCAA came out in opposition to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and other businesses threatened to boycott Indiana. A major battle in the culture wars going on in this country erupted in Indiana as evangelicals praised state lawmakers’ refusal to amend the law and others called for Indiana to join other states in ensuring civil rights protection for more of its citizens who may experience discrimination.
The amended law didn’t end the conversation. Pence’s comments in the State of the State didn’t either. On Friday, Brinegar told the Associated Press, “We need to close the book on the … issue, which some would say was a debacle.”
Brinegar wanted more than he got from the governor, who said he abhors discrimination but won’t support changing state law in any way on this issue.
Conservatives, including a group of pastors, praise Pence for that. Others say that Pence’s leadership or lack of it on the issue make the state look intolerant and make it tougher to recruit workers.
Brinegar spoke out on behalf the state chamber, which doesn’t speak for local chambers, but represents major employers in the state. In doing so, he inserted himself into an important conversation that isn’t done in the state.
The General Assembly does have several bills that could grant protections. Senate Bill 100 goes further to grant protections to LGBT people while offering exemptions for clergy, small businesses and religious organizations. Senate Bill 344 doesn’t offer protection for transgendered people.
Following the speech, Brinegar wasn’t the only one to speak up. Senate President Pro Tem David Long told the Indianapolis Star, “I don’t think you can duck issues like this. It doesn’t mean you have to pass something, but you must have that discussion, and you must make some tough calls.”
Long and Brinegar know what Pence doesn’t yet seem to: that the conversation isn’t done and showing leadership on the issue is needed on the state and local level. Questions remain about whether Indiana protects all its citizens. It may be difficult to end all those questions, but extending state law is a start and can happen only if leaders keep talking and working toward resolution.