Chris Douglas

A Personal Farewell

Filed By Chris Douglas | April 28, 2007 7:45 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
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This spring marks the 10 year anniversary of the day that I was fired from the position for which I had long prepared myself, managing exports of Indiana manufactured goods to Asia. That manufacturer fired me because I had taken a public role in the founding of a local chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, outing myself in the process.

When I outed myself, I felt alone. At the time, I was aware of only two organizations serving the cause of civil rights in Indiana, neither capable (in my opinion at the time) of addressing our primary audience: reasonable Hoosiers. I didn't have any gay friends in this state. I didn't really care what the gay community thought of me; my audience was friends, family, and peers who I felt would come to support lesbians and gays in Indiana if they knew I was one. When I came out, I knew it would be a rocky road. It was. But, in my estimation of our fellow citizens, it has been redeeming.

Below, I am saying goodbye to the focus I have had on glbt activism, for after over 10 years of activism, with the defeat of the Amendment, and (in my estimation) strong glbt community prospects for success with or without me, I am directing my energies back to my profession.

The Firing

When I was called in 1997 into the office of a corporate vice president with whom I had been cordially collaborating on another Asian trip, I was stunned. I drove 40 minutes back to my house, trying to see the road through tears. On the positive side, I received a flood of notes from rank and file, some calling me too good for the company. These were the people I believe management thought wouldn't be able to accept the fact that I was an out-of-the closet gay. On the negative side, the Director of Human Resources reprimanded a high-ranking manager for initiating a series of strong referrals to other industry players, saying that such positive comments would expose the company to a lawsuit from me for wrongful termination, a lawsuit I had not contemplated and which, under current law, would have had no grounds to proceed. (Firing someone for being gay remains perfectly legal in most of Indiana.)

I have no regrets about that firing. I knew it was possible when I came out, but I also felt that if with all my advantages in life I could not speak up publicly for civil rights, who could? Who was I to enjoy the benefits of the work done and pain suffered by others without feeling that pain myself, when I had all the leverage in life I needed to survive? When the first reporter called requesting an interview in 1996 about Log Cabin, I asked for 10 minutes to prepare. I gave the interview girded for the possibility that the job I loved, blending perfectly my Asian studies and languages, my belief in manufacturing, and my ability to live in Indiana, would be taken from me. It was. And it was a loss. With fluency in Chinese and some Japanese, with study in the best language schools in the world, with extensive study and thesis work in Asia, with self-financed education in export sales management, and self-financed trips to develop business experience in Asia, I have now not been back for more than ten years. (Deep in debt from student loans at the time, my income has never recovered.)

Community

As I contemplated what to do next, I made my decisions believing that I had already given up the only thing that could really be taken from me. The support of my family and friends remained, including my parents, my brother's family, and my then-ancient (and still ancient) conservative grandmothers. In the mental fog created by the firing, that evening I swiped off my my car's rear view mirror. My brother, a doctor, re-affixed it to the car with a drill and some screws while I watched. I was actually moved, for it was like a modest gesture of support, placing a bandage as much as he could on the only physical manifestation of my life's catastrophe. Close friends from whom I had distanced myself, and whom I had feared I would lose because of their devout Catholicism, were the first to leave messages supporting me when the first article appeared. And I received statements of support from people that represented for me Hoosier civil and religious life, including Dick Lugar (a former boss) and Dick Hamilton, our family minister. And from the extended farming family I received a warm welcome always to visit, and bring a partner. It was clear to me that, at least among the Hoosiers whose support I valued, there was not a depth of bigotry or intolerance. To the contrary.

And I found friends, people who themselves, though very different in their outlooks, were dedicated and decent and of high integrity to the cause, savvy in varying degrees to its necessities, and purposeful. I think of many who, while they have at times had various mutual animosities, have been generous towards me. I feel a fellowship with those whose ego seems to me to have been in service of a cause and not vice versa. Among those for whom I have profound respect as pioneers, people of strength, vision, and integrity to the civil rights cause over all other concerns have been Kathy Sarris, Marla Stevens, Jeff Miner and Vivian Benge, each of whom has been irreplaceable at times in what they undertook, with competence and savvy, when no one else would have, sometimes caring not a wit what others in the community might have thought of them. There's a long list of people who have made important contributions - I would fear to offend by omitting.

And, of course, I met my partner of seven years now, Tom Korecki.

Bringing Business to the GLBT Table

I felt the only thing that would make that job loss and sacrifice meaningful would be to see progress occur in Indiana, and for 10 years I have done my best to contribute to that progress. I came to agree with those who believed that Hoosiers would respond well to us if we acted politically, rather than through the courts, a belief in the basic decency, tolerance, and fair-mindedness of Hoosiers. I looked for and accepted only work that would allow me the ability to speak up, to show a face, without fear of further loss.

I felt it would be independence in business that would provide that platform, and it has. Through supportive business, and through self-support, I would never worry about an employer's objection to a press conference, interview, or article. That didn't reduce stress... along with Marcia Knight, finding my picture on the front page of the IBJ depicted prominently as a gay businessman in 1997 was highly stressful, at a time when the reporter could find less than a half-dozen willing to talk openly, and only two of us willing to have our pictures taken. Before giving the press conference at the start of the legislative session in 2005 with Kathy Sarris, I went into the office of my business partner, Alan Hendrickson, and I cried, for I felt cornered, one of only two who by risking everything in business and in reputation were in a position to make the necessary point to certain politicians. (How could we ask politicians to risk their careers if we weren't willing to risk ours?)

But I also felt that the public support of business to the community would be a necessary precursor to progress. As a board member of Justice Inc, which in 2000 was conducting Indiana Pride, I prevailed on MetLife, which I represented, to approve a sponsorship of Pride. I thought if I could get my corporation at the time to venture into public support of the community, others would follow. In the spring of 2000, MetLife to my knowlege was the first Fortune 500 company to have a booth at pride festival in Indiana. (Actually, I believe my business presence was the first mainstream business presence of any size in the Spring of 2000, though others may recollect differently.) By the fall, Prudential was there, and American Express. Each year thereafter, the presence of Fortune 500 companies increased.

(I'd like to think, by the way, that Ted Fleishaker might agree that my advertisement for MetLife was a pioneering presence in the Word, establishing in 2000 the precedent of mainstream business advertisement, breaking a barrier for mainstream business's public identification with the community. I would welcome him to correct that impression. I felt it was true at the time, and quite intentional.)

I felt also that for civil rights purposes we needed to have an organized business organization to interact with other business organizations, a Chamber of businesses that would operate not in the shadows but in full public light as a representative to the public of what the glbt community really is. We founded one, and achieved publicity through the Star and the IBJ. By the time of this amendment fight, the Rainbow Chamber was a member of the Diversity Council of the Indianapolis Chamber alongside the other minority business organizations, shared mutual memberships with the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitor's association, and boasted membership of such companies as IBM and Bank One. And the Chamber, along with Interfaith Coalition on Nondiscrimination, Justice Inc., INTRAA, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Organization of Women, and regional steering committees met together to form the Indiana Equality Coalition.

NonDiscrimination and the Marriage Fight

The Indiana Equality coalition was formed by people who had confidence in the ability of Hoosiers to move forward on nondiscrimination, and the savvy to understand that nondiscrimination was the principle that had to precede. While some advocated and prosecuted court fights, the coalition members of Indiana Equality month in, month out, year in, year out, was meeting quietly and assembling the battle front for a civil rights bill.

Without question, I have identified with, and supported, and continue to support, the work of Indiana Equality. What has always, I think, separated me from many others in the community, I think, has not been my Republicanism. Instead, it has been the depth of my feeling about the fundamental ability of Hoosiers as a matter of public policy to be decent to us when worked with, called upon, and ultimately expected to, for it is what I have found to be true in my personal life. The court cases, in my opinion, were not only prosecuted in a foolish, uncoordinated, and unrealistic strategy, but they were launched by people and supported by organizations who were unwilling to do the hard personal work of educating Hoosiers about us and persuading them of our humanity, because they fundamentally lacked respect for any Hoosier ability to respond to education and a political process, and lacked respect for the capacity of Hoosier reporters and editorial boards to be informed and educated, for Hoosier churches to unify to principled support, and Hoosier corporations to speak up in our support.

When the court cases proved a tremendous failure, and when a tide of resentment surged, it was only Indiana Equality that was positioned to pick up the pieces, not by coincidence, but because the Indiana Equality coalition had for years been coordinating a multiple front strategy of obtaining public support for the community, vested with faith in the ability of Hoosiers ultimately to understand and respond nobly to the needs of their fellow citizens without coercion.

The Future of GLBT Community in Indiana

I believe that the tide in Indiana has truly turned. Though an assault on the Constitution no doubt will return next year, its chances of success diminish with each day, for Hoosiers will find only more courage to speak up as so many already have.

By a fluke of the Constitution in Indiana, we are lucky. Those who prosecuted these marriage cases played Russian Roulette with a gun of 29 chambers, 27 of which held bullets. Arizona and Indiana alone survived the game. It was a bad strategy.

For 27 states, the marriage strategy was a disaster of epic and generational proportions. For us, daylight is coming fast. In contrast to 10 years ago, when merely holding a cocktail party to support a candidate was cause for press coverage and job loss, today every editorial board in the State of Indiana that has spoken about the amendment, spoke for us, and Indiana's leading employers have finally stepped to the plate. In my estimation, the tipping point has passed.... it can only get better for us now, provided that people of sound mind can continue to coordinate on tactics and strategy through Indiana Equality, and provided that personal vendettas die a deserving death. (The community needs the competence and consensus demonstrated by organizational leaders around the coalitional round table of Indiana Equality; too much criticism of IE in my opinion came from people who could not establish personal leadership credibility in an environment of sober, rational thinkers. The community has been buffeted too often by too many people struggling understandably with depression and borderline personality disorder, psychoses producing low self-esteem, hyper-sensitivity, and needs to resolve those personal issues by way of public attention.)

I had personally hoped to achieve in coordination with others the passage of civil rights legislation, so that I could say to myself I had done my part. A younger generation of gays could take on the fight for equality in relationship rights. But the imperative of defeating the amendment supplanted all else, for what could any in the future accomplish, if we failed to defeat this attack upon even the principle of constitutional equality under the law?

This amendment now will be defeated, I believe. While not inevitable, its defeat is overwhelmingly likely. Suddenly, we are finding a tide of hatred receding (though not yet gone), a swamp of intolerance draining, and ground firm enough to speak confidently not only for measures to protect civil rights, but for relationship rights as well. People of sound mind gathering to discuss strategy will be able, in my estimation, to prosecute that strategy successfully, so long as they don't surrender to foolishness. Let court fights as a leading strategy find their end. Let a respect for Hoosiers of good will (of both parties) prevail. The more we attend to political success in Indiana, coordinating strategy in coalition with the churches, the businesses, and the community groups and allies across the state, the more success we will find.

Home

Progress is in our future, and that future is coming fast. As the editorial boards, corporations, churches, and increasing number of politicians have either spoken or lent quiet important support, a sense of personal pride in Indiana is returning for me. When I sat at my desk and received a message that Eli Lilly, was announcing its opposition to SJR-7, I admit I cried. That was the moment I knew we would survive this Constitutional crisis and that the Hoosier center had finally become our allies. While I have always known Indiana is where I would live, Indiana feels like home again.

A Good Bye

For 10 years, every spare ounce of energy and every spare dollar of mine has gone into the cause, contributing it all in succession to Log Cabin, Justice, Inc., the Interfaith Coalition, the Rainbow Chamber, Indiana Equality, First Republicans (a moderate Republican group characterized by the willingness of the Board to oppose SJR-7 publicly, among its other causes), and innumerable quiet initiatives. I've put up with anonymous and not-so-anonymous attacks on my integrity and motivations. I've spent thousands of hours quietly lobbying government, media, and businesses (without pay, of course) for the gay and the transgendered communities. I've given money to politicians and sponsored or contributed to organizations either at the request of community strategists or to maintain strong inter-relations for the organizations I've served. Even though I manage and counsel it for others, I haven't made a retirement contribution since I was fired 10 years ago. Nor have I paid for a real vacation. While so many did so much to defeat this amendment, much of which will not be known to the community, I know what I did,and I know I did as much as I possibly could. I'm satisfied I've done my part.

For 10 years I have placed my own sense of life and career on a back burner. My firm has served as platform, but I have not grown it, nor attended seriously either to its potential or mine. As I have diverted my gaze from the Statehouse, I see suddenly and clearly what we can do to make our firm important in finance both here and abroad. It's exciting, and we've created a division to do it. (Don't worry, Clients, I will continue to provide financial planning and asset management.)

I have a few things more that I may or may not post in the coming weeks that speak to some specific remaining matters on my mind. And no doubt I will still have some missions to perform as Indiana Equality or the Rainbow Chamber may direct or request. For the most part, though, my service on this blog and in glbt community organizations has run its course. Thank you all for your help, support, fellowship, and friendship over the years.

Sincerely,

Chris Douglas

(I owe a great deal especially to my partner, Tom, whose love, patience, and support has made my own efforts possible. I don't imply that life has been harsh. To the contrary, I know I have been very fortunate.)


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Don Sherfick | April 29, 2007 7:44 AM

Chris, I truly don't believe that the LGBT community, as well as the other organizations and people you have served, can thank you enough for your efforts, seen and unseen. I for one have deeply appreciated your knowledgable insight and calm, common-sense approach in the relatively short time I've known you. Now take some time, as much as you richly deserve (and then a bit more) to live and love life and career, and give a big hug to Tom. That is, after all, it's all about. I have a feeling you won't be all that far away.

Chris, I am saddened but supportive of your decision. I, personally, know the hours of your time that you have spent behind the scenes furthering the equality of LGBT Hoosiers. There are countless others that have done the same but may or may not have done so running their own business and taking personal attacks so publicly.

Reading your post caused me to reflect on how we met and how we have worked together. In the early days of forming the Indy Rainbow Chamber, you asked that I take on the role as Chair, when you assumed the role as President. I remember the many discussions that we had over the years....some heated, but I must say that you always listened and gave thought to other's input. You, also, gave me perspective on issues from a point of view that I had not considered before. You have always taken on the role to reach out to fair minded Hoosiers, whether Republican or Democrat, when it was to advance the cause for equality in our community. (I still remember driving by your house during the election and seeing a 'My Man Mitch' sign next to a David Orentlicher sign).

We are not done with SJR7, we still have much to do. We still need the discussion of Civil Rights and Hate Crimes. While I know that your focus will be on your business, I also know that you care enough to help out in any way you can in the coming years.

On behalf of the many others who care as deeply as you do about equality and take their time and energy to make a difference, behind the scenes or 'out in front'......thank you.

Ellen Andersen | April 29, 2007 2:27 PM

Both the community and this blog will be losing a powerful and thoughtful advocate of civility and human dignity. Enjoy your return to "private" life, Chris. We'll miss you.

I think it's very important for a person to know their limits and leave activism before they burn out, and for that, accolades. However, I find your commentary on the successes around SJR7 either naive (which is unlikely given my knowledge of your understanding of how this works) or constructed specifically by you to make leaving easier - not for the community, but for you, so you can feel like you're not leaving in the middle of something, even though you most certainly are.

Chris Douglas | April 30, 2007 11:24 AM

Don, Jon, and Ellen, thank you.

(Visitor, you've provided a typical anonymous post, insinuating ulterior motive, pretending a superior understanding and insight while harboring none. Well done.)

Don't be an ass, Visitor.

You'll be missed on the blog, Chris. Who will represent gay Republicans? *grins*

Chris Douglas | April 30, 2007 1:09 PM

(Thank you, Bil. I do think you might consider asking David Wene to blog.)

Douglas, it has been most interesting getting a glimpse into your numerous insights. Thank you.

As you well know, diversity is our strength. I'm sure that knowledge will continue to serve you well.
______

(Bil, it would be very good thing if you would identify "visitor" so not to leave those who have disagreed with Douglas' politics in the past now suspect.)

Kay, While I understand your point, I'm going to respectfully decline. One of the main benefits to blogs (in my opinion) is that they allow anyone to be taken for the words they've written instead of just based on their name. This allows readers to contemplate the words themselves and judge whether or not they want to respect them. Anonymous comments and, hell, entire blogs have played an important role in the internet and American society.

Not everyone will agree with me, I'm sure. But that's the way I see it.

(But for the record, the comment left was the only one in all of bilerico.com's comments section from that IP address. Does that mean it's not a regular commentor? Not necessarily. But it does point that way.)

Chris Douglas | April 30, 2007 6:12 PM

Thank you, Kay. I've valued your comments and criticisms, and would not have suspected you of other than passionate, full-frontal attack! (I say that with genuine affection.)

Chris said "The community has been buffeted too often by too many people struggling understandably with depression and borderline personality disorder, psychoses producing low self-esteem, hyper-sensitivity, and needs to resolve those personal issues by way of public attention.)"

I'm a bit behind on my blog reading but I still feel the need to comment on a few things.

This comment was way over the top in my opinion. I'm speechless that you even stooped to this level Chris.

I have also grown tired of reading about how wrong those couples were to take their case through the court system. I do not know them but I do applaude anyone that stands up to fight for our rights whether they are successful or not.

Thank you for what you have done for our community Chris and I wish you luck.

Chris Douglas | May 3, 2007 5:44 AM

Thank you for your comments, Lori, and for your work as well.

A. J. Lopp | May 6, 2007 12:42 PM

Chris, although we butted heads momentarily on this blog, it is clear to me that your contributions to the progress of GLBT interests in Indianapolis and the state are vast. Statewide, all of us who will enjoy the results are in your debt.

[In fact, seeing that we dodged the SJR-7 bullet this year by exactly one vote, your efforts (as well as the efforts of any one major activist in this campaign) may have made the deciding difference. We may have won this round, but we did so by the hair on our chinny-chin-chins.]

May your accomplishments in the business world be equally vast. Once again, I am confident your proven ability to focus your efforts will quickly produce very noticeable results --- and the community, I am sure, will benefit in many indirect ways from your upcoming success.

Chris Douglas | May 9, 2007 8:32 AM

Thank you for your kind comments, A.J.