Bil Browning

Indianapolis: 12th largest city won't even crack the lavender ceiling

Filed By Bil Browning | August 17, 2007 1:07 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Andre Carson, City-County Council, Congress, Democrats, Indianapolis, Julia Carson, tokenism

Indianapolis is the 12th largest city in the United States, but you wouldn't know it from the way the LGBT community is treated. We had to scrape and fight to secure a human rights ordinance in 2005 that includes sexual orientation and gender identity after it failed earlier in the year when the Democrat controlled City-County Council couldn't muster enough votes to pass it. In the end, most Democrats who had voted against the measure earlier in the year switched their votes and two Republican councilors - Scott Keller (who co-sponsored it and is up for re-election this year) and Lance Langsford - also voted in favor of the ordinance.

One of the original Democratic "no" votes that switched and voted in favor of the HRO was Patrice Abduallah, a black Muslim councilor. Patrice had the district with the highest population of LGBT citizens - he represented Indianapolis's small "gay ghetto" area and we talked several times as I lobbied the council to pass the HRO. I became his token gay "friend." While he was clearly uncomfortable voting in favor of the resolution because of his religious beliefs, Patrice was ultimately the swing vote in favor of the ordinance. Yesterday, Patrice was forced to resign his seat on the council after it came to light that the house he had moved into was on the wrong side of the street to qualify as his district.

julia&andrecarson.jpgSpeculation has abounded as to who would be nominated as his successor on the City-County Council. While my calls to the Marion County Democratic Headquarters have so far been unreturned, I've now spoken with a few councilors off the record who have confirmed that Andre Carson, grandson of Congresswoman Julia Carson, will be the party-backed replacement. Carson, long rumored to be the Congresswoman's chosen successor, has no political experience so a bump to the Council would provide the background necessary to hold the seat. While I have nothing against Andre Carson (or his grandmother), I'm forced to wonder when the Indianapolis democrats would actually consider recruiting a gay candidate to represent the heavily gay district. While several political districts at all levels of government are drawn to ensure African-American representation, when do we get the right to represent ourselves?

In most major cities, the LGBT community has become a welcome ally in the political process. In Indiana, however, we're still generally ignored and snubbed by the powers that be. The Indiana Stonewall Democrats have a seat on the Indiana State Central Committee (which TBP contributor Ellen Andersen currently holds), but that's about it. We don't even have an openly gay elected official serving anywhere in the state!

In the last election, Tina Taviano ran for sheriff in the Ft. Wayne area as an out lesbian with full support from The Victory Fund. The last days of the campaign were brutally homophobic and she ended up losing the race. The message was sent loudly and clearly to gays and lesbian Hoosiers - the party will not defend you. You're on your own.

In our state legislature we've never been able to round up enough votes from the straight representatives who sit in judgement of our lives to even pass standard civil rights legislation that includes us. No hate crimes legislation either; we're one of the handful of states without a hate crimes law. While we beat back a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions, it wasn't because legislators were gay friendly, per se - only that the amendment over-reaches so dramatically it would affect domestic violence protections and domestic partner benefits already in place. Plus, it's not as if the amendment were defeated; it tied in committee and will more than likely come back in next years General Assembly session.

Obviously the Marion County Democratic Party is following in the footsteps of the state party. After giving us lip service on the committee, the state party has virtually ignored our needs ever since. Since passing the HRO, the county party has apparently decided we've advanced far enough lately.

Perhaps the party could worry more about representing the diversity that comes with being the 12th largest city in America than setting a would-be successor on his way to Congress via the City-County Council. (Since the Democratic precinct committeepersons will elect the new councilor, I'm hearing that folks are starting to get appointed to the precinct to stack the deck and ensure a Carson victory. With Patrice unopposed in the general election, whomever is appointed now will serve the next four years as well. With Julia Carson in poor health, I'm not sure how long Andre Carson would stay on the council before jumping ship to the Congressional seat.) I know I'd feel better knowing that someone with my issues is there to represent those issues. The LGBT community of Indianapolis should immediately contact the county party at (317) 637-3366 and demand that Patrice's old seat be given to an LGBT person. We have seats that are guaranteed to be represented by black people as part of the party's stand for diversity. I want the same guarantee for our people.

Now we just have to find someone who'd be willing to stand up and be the first openly LGBT person on the council. Any suggestions on who it should be? Remember, they have to live in the district.


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Good luck getting anyone but a crony of Julia Carson in. The Democrats from Julia down are pushing for an all-black, preferably all-male and undoubtedly all-straight Council whose agenda is minority hiring, minority contracts, preferential treatment from zoning, code enforcement, law enforcement, sweetheart deals between govt and business (aka Carl Drummer), etc. And not just any minority because only one minority counts in Marion County! Just look at the overwhelming percentage of blacks working in the City-County Bldg, at the State Fair, anywhere govt. does the hiring.

The Marion County Dem machine will not consider a gay person, a Hispanic, an Asian, a white male, and certainly not an American Indian (if you can find one in Indianapolis) unless of course that person swears allegiance to the current system. They already have six women on the Council so they probably wouldn't allow one more, and they certainly wouldn't consider an independent, free-thinking black person either, gay or straight!

I wish you luck, but diversity is a sham in Marion County so if you find someone to run, it will be without the help of the Democratic party!

Bil, your post very much "hits the nail on the head" and I hope the LGBT community in Indy takes note of it.

Your post, however, does bring up many questions.

First, as a newcomer and four-days-a-week resident of Indianapolis, where exactly is the Indianapolis's small "gay ghetto" area of which you speak?

If you are referring to Mass Avenue, I would take umbrage at that area being called a "ghetto" --- it is, instead, one of many economic engines that keeps this city going. I would not call five-story buildings that get converted into condos which, in turn, go into the market for $350K+ each to be indicative of a "ghetto"!

Second, if separate from the "gay ghetto" area, what are the boundaries of the city council district of which you speak? Does this district actually have a number that we can use when referring to it? Where does one go (online?) to find out such stuff?

Third, if the LGBT community knows that we will be fighting a recurrence of SJR-7 in next year's legislature, does the Indianapolis community want to divide its focus between getting an openly out candidate on the council? Or conversely, would having someone on the council openly out possibly be of help in the fight against next year's SJR-7?

Fourth (and this is an aside) ... what was Patrice Abdullah smoking when he inadvertently moved out of his own district? Isn't it the first class in City Council 101 to know the boundaries of one's own district? Did he actually think that no one would notice? Can't he rent a bedroom in someone's house to stay in the district and on the council? I mean, Councilor Abdullah, what a bizarre fuck-up!! (Pardon my Arabic)

[Actually, Bilerico readers, don't bother answering that last one ... it's his problem, and water under the bridge ...]

My main point here is, Bil, if you seek to have a particular section of the city represented by a particular type of person, the first step is clearly identifying the exact particular section of the city you are talking about. (And I'm sure your out-of-Indy readers stopped reading this thread long ago, so don't worry about boring them with all the details.)

P.S. "ellen m" posted her comment while I was composing mine ... and I hope she is wrong if she implies that seeking a LGBT or pro-LGBT candidate would intrinsically posit "the blacks against the gays" ... but, sadly, such pockets do exist in Los Angeles, I learned when I lived there, and it's sad indeed if that is the direction that Indianapolis politics is heading also. In any such fight, the blacks might win ... but the establishment non-black, non-gay forces will win bigger.

For political idiots such as myself, here is the link where the Indianapolis City Council District Map can be found:

Indianapolis District Map

It takes about three minutes of studying this map to identify the biggest reason for no LGBT representation: Deliberately or by accident, the districts are jerrymandered against us rather badly.

Even the Mass Avenue Business and Arts District itself is divided; its lower (southwest) blocks are in District 15 and its upper (northeast) blocks are in District 16. Farther north, Mass Ave is the boundary between Districts 9, 10, and 16.

Even the gentrifying Fountain Square/Fletcher Avenue area is divided between Districts 16 and 19.

What other parts of this city have sizeable LGBT populations which can be mobilized? While there may be "gay ghetto" pockets here and there, for the most part we are scattered throughout the city.

To our advantage, the gentrified area generally known as Fall Creek Place, running along Pennsylvania Avenue between 16 th Street up to Fall Creek, does lie mostly within District 15. But its eastern edge is largely New Jersey and Alabama Streets, which means that any expansion of the LGBT residency in this area eastward will be in a different district (District 9).

So, there, Bil, is your answer.

Further commentary, anyone?

A.J.,
When I was involved in getting HRO support letters signed and sent to the council, we went to nostly gay venues and events and had the signers include their address as proof they lived in Marion county and also so I could look each one up and distribute to their respective council member. I can't remember our total now, but it was over a thousand and the vast vast majority of signers were gay.

With that being said, Jackie Nytes' district had the most, followed somewhat closely by Patrece and Scott Keller was a distant third.

An interesting thing I noticed is that Jackie and Patrece's districts intertwine somewhat. In other words, Jackie would cover one side of Talbot St. while Patrece covered the other. If you look at the shape of their districts, they are the most gerrymandered by far.

Not sure if any of that info helps but it helped me to understand where most of the GLBT community is concentrated.

Jackie Nytes's district is #9 Patrice Abduallah's district is #15 (Click here for the map of the districts.)

Together they carve up a large portion of downtown Indianapolis. Mass Ave from College Avenue going west is probably the best known gay district in town. Several of the neighborhoods surrounding the area have gentrified as we've moved in. In fact, it wasn't that long ago that those $350K+ condos were abandoned warehouses and storefronts.

Several LGBT hoosiers serve as precinct committee persons or ward chairs, but I should admit that one of the problems is getting an openly LGBT candidate to actually run for office. After what happened to Tina Taviano and even gay-friendly straight candidates/officials, it'll take a brave individual to face those slings and arrows.

First I wanted to point out that Dr. Henry Fernandez was elected to the Lawrence Township School Board and was supported by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

Second, a party might be willing to run a LGBT person, but they need people willing to run. Running is diferent than helping a candidate or a party. It requires a lot of time and effort. Jennifer Greg of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund was in town this week and meet with the Stonewall Democrats and the Log Cabin Republicans. One thing she asked was if we knew of any LGBT person willing to run. My impression was that she did not get very many names.

District 15 includes the Lockerbie area, so there is no excuse for the Democrats not to consider this very reasonable "request". However, I just don't expect the Democrats to do anything but take the LGBT vote and campaign contributions, all without delivering very much, and rarely for the right reasons.

The Libertarian Party has been very eager to run LGBT candidates. I'll follow up what you had to say about recruiting candidates, Bil: it isn't easy. This isn't limited to just LGBT persons, though. It's hard to find people willing to step forward, to put their name on the line, to do the work of campaigning and building team, of having the media generally ignore or ridicule them, etc.

So, this is an excellent opportunity to bypass all that. If the Democrats would appoint a community member, that person could then run as the incumbent in whatever special election will follow. it would be a big message from the Democratic Party that this is a valued constituency.

So, I hope that the Dems are taken hard to task to deliver. Else, why keep backing them? Sure, they aren't the Republicans, but how satisfying is that?

Wilson46201 | August 17, 2007 7:41 PM

There are only 32 Democrats eligible to vote in this Special Election. There is no "stacking" going on. None of the 32 are openly gay and no closety ones that I know of. All Council districts comprise about 35,000 residents in that area.

8 or 12 years ago Jeff McQuarie who's openly gay ran on the Democratic ticket as an at-large candidate. All the Dem at-larges lost that year.

Wilson46201 | August 17, 2007 7:44 PM

Bil doesn't live in the 15th District. Neither do I. So who is LGBT and Democratic and capable and willing to serve in that District? And why haven't they been campaigning for months now?

Well, Wilson - a lot of that would probably be because there was a current Democrat in office. Except for a primary challenge there wouldn't be a reason to campaign at all. Patrice is unopposed in the election, so whomever ends up the councilor will automatically win re-election.

There are 32 precinct committeepersons in the 15th district, Wilson? How many precincts are in that district? Are they all full?

Wilson46201 | August 17, 2007 10:15 PM

There are several "vacant" precinct slots in that district (like almost every council district). Those vacancies cannot be filled to vote in this Special Election. The general rule is that one has to have been a precinct worker for at least 30 days before the Special Election. A Special Election has to be held within 30 days.

The real problem here is that there are damn few openly LGBT precinct committeepeople. I've been out and active in the Democratic Party for over 20 years now. Where the heck have all the other LGBT folk been all this time?

Power is never given, it has to be taken! Elected Democrats tend to be nice about gay issues but without significant LGBT participation inside the party, gay candidacies won't follow.

wow bil, you actually linked to circlecitypundit aka the scribe? i didn't think anyone took that guy seriously.

you do realize he considers bilerico a "hate site", right?

Wow Stallio, I didn't know Circle City Pundit was a super whackjob. I had a look at the entire site (as versus just the first local blog I found that supported the rumor) and I see he calls me a "Christian-hater" and has some sort of hissy fit about blog accreditation - either his blog or Gary's, I'm not sure which.

(All in all, I find myself agreeing with Jen Wagner in that "the story is most important" mentality. It's nice when we get credited for this story or that, but it's not a driving need. Geez.)

Long story short - I changed the link to Blue Indiana. I know Thomas isn't a far-right nutjob. :) Thanks for the heads up.

Wilson46201 | August 19, 2007 12:09 AM

I am still very upset at the bundle of misinformation and prejudice by "Ellen M". She decries the Democrats lack of diversity. It was the GOP on the Council that fought the H.R.O. tooth-and-nail. As for women diversity, 6 are Democrats (out of 15) -- 4 are Republicans (out of 14). Racially? 10 of 15 Democrat Councilors are Black (2 female) -- 1 of 14 Republicans are Black (none female).

Those numbers should put "Ellen M' to shame about which party promotes diversity. The GOP never once put a Black citizen on the ticket during their 30+ years of dominance. Frank Anderson was the first Black man elected to a county office only 5 years ago. Billie Breaux was the first Black woman just last year!

Which party has been trying to ramrod the Anti Gay Marriage Amendment through the Legislature? The GOP of course. The only votes against it were Democrats.

Wilson46201 | August 19, 2007 12:18 AM

For all the folk that call for the the Democrats to hand an LGBT person an electable political office: can you even imagine in your wildest dreams the GOP being expected to do the same? Gays are openly and vocally fought by the local Republcans - remember how they treated their Scott Keller who had the temerity to vote decently on LGBT issues.

You make good points in #14, Wilson. I agree that locally the Democrats reflect more diversity in their numbers. But in #15 I disagree.

I expect our political partners to treat us like political partners. The Republicans are in no way our party. I know very well how the Republican party has treated Keller and I expect better than that of the Democrats. Is what you're saying that I shouldn't expect the Democrats to recognize the LGBT population in Indianapolis just because the Republicans don't? That our standard should be what the opposite party decides? That we only have to one up them a little bit and then we can be satisfied?

No thanks.

Wilson46201 | August 19, 2007 7:57 AM

The Democrats appreciate the moral importance of LGBT issues and do not want to antagonize LGBT voters and their friends. Sadly, the level of organized LGBT participation within the party is miniscule. The perceptible impact of the LGBT vote simply isnt there. The LGBT vote is diffused geographically. There's no LGBT caucus within the Marion County Democrats. There have been LGBT fundraising events which are appreciated but hardly crucial. Of the over 700 local precinct committeepeople, how many are openly LGBT? Very, very few...

People aren't handed electable offices - they go for it when something opens up. That requires experience and planning as well as the desire to be an elected official. When was the last time an openly LGBT individual tried to run for office? Jeff McQuarie maybe? Carpetbagger Kris Kiser?