Here's my perspective on the cookie situation.
First, when I came out of the closet in 1996 here in Indiana, I did so publicly by founding an organization (the Indiana Chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans), issuing a press release, and agreeing to interviews from the Indianapolis Star and the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. (At the time, there was no Democratic organization.) At the time, I was in management of a company in a small town and imagined that I risked my job in that act. I was right; shortly after the article appeared on the front page in Fort Wayne, I was fired. To put that in perspective, I had the job I always wanted, and a massive business school debt to pay off. That I expected it did not make it less devastating.
In Indiana, everywhere but in a few places, including Indianapolis, Lafayette, and Bloomington, it remains perfectly legal to say "You are gay and you are fired," or to deny a gay couple an apartment, or (as happened to me and a friend in a jazz club in Fort Wayne) to say "We are not going to wait upon you." As somebody who had the leverage in life associated with a strong education and a loving family, I joined others in the determination that we needed to do something to improve the situation for other decent law-abiding LGBT citizens in Indiana.
The first thing that we felt it was necessary to do was to establish the principle of nondiscrimination, which in Indiana at the time barely existed for us. But we knew that the vast majority of Hoosiers supported nondiscrimination, even if laws and public policies did not yet reflect. We began establishing the necessary precedents, first through efforts to get public officials to issue nondiscrimiation statements, and then to use support and precedent of these officials to achieve the inclusion of our community in human rights ordinances and civil rights codes.
At the same time, there was a court-centered attempt to achieve recognition of our marriages. Many of us took practical issue with the attempt to achieve these changes in the courthouse, rather than in the court of public opinion. It was not for lack of principle; it was reality. We believed that in the absence of a legally established principle that we needed to be treated with equanamity, the support for recognition of our relationships would be inadequate.
To help readers understand this, I observe that when the Indiana Civil Liberties Union filed its lawsuit for marriage on behalf of same sex couples a decade ago or so, even the most radical of activists here in Indiana went berserk against the ICLU. I remember the meeting vividly, for it was none other than Marla Stevens who shouted frantically and at the top of her voice at the frozen and somewhat stunned representatives of the ICLU. Marla predicted, at a time when sophisticated people found it impossible to imagine, that the ICLU's case and efforts like it would not only fail, but would create tidal public backlash that would produce Constitutional amendments across the U.S.
On legal principle, the lawyers were right. But on the reality, Marla was right. The attempt to work marriage through the courts was not only a failure, but it blew apart and set back the efforts in Indiana to focus on nondiscrimination by years.
But a broad coalition did continue to push forward, every constituent member acting in important ways. With the election of Scott Keller, the political landscape was shaken up in Indianapolis sufficient to enable Jackie Nytes and Scott Keller working together, with broad and multi-pronged community support, to get the HRO in Indianapolis amended to incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity. Now, it is illegal in Indianapolis to fire someone, deny them housing, or refuse to serve them based on either of these two characteristics.
But Indianapolis is only a precedent. As we all know, life in Indianapolis is good. We have a thriving GLBT community, integral to the city's neighborhood, cultural, and political life. Our problems are not in Indianapolis; they are in places like Greensburg, Seymour, and other towns and communities where gay and transgender citizens are so isolated as to be desperate, frightened, afraid for their families and their livelihoods. These are the citizens in need of increased protection. The recent suicide in Greensburg is significant only because publicity descended upon it. Suicides, harrassment, fear.... this is all too common in Indiana where no protections exist whatsoever.
In my opinion, the incident at the bakery must be understood in this context. I know how it is to become incensed when treated unequally, and so I feel for the students. But while disappointing, in my opinion, the attempt to leverage the HRO against the bakery constitutes a grave threat to our ability to achieve progress in Indiana.
First, a refusal to put icing on cupcake for National Coming Out Day is not a good cause celebre in my opinion. To the contrary, many small business owners (including me) are taxed as if their businesses and their personal lives are one in the same, because they are. Their businesses are their identities, and what they support with their products and their advertising are expressions of who they are. It was my business that was the first mainstream business to appear at Indianapolis Pride event in 2000 and that founded and funded the Indy Rainbow Chamber of Commerce. Even I, a gay businessman, rebel at the idea that someone could force me to supply National Coming Out Day, a political project of HRC, a 501c4, if I don't want to. I rebel at the precedent that says a small business owner is compelled to support any political project with which he or she disagrees.
But even if I did not personally rebel, I submit that the vast majority of small business owners would. Rather than supporting the HRO, business would have vigorously opposed it if it understood that this application of it was possible.
Which takes me to my second point. We here in Indianapolis may not think it a problem that the City County Council would not have passed the HRO if this application had been contemplated. After all, the HRO is in place, and what difference does it make? To us, none. But if the commission rules in favor of IUPUI, it will be the last HRO passed in Indiana, and it will destroy prospects to amend the civil rights code. Rest assured that our good friends at the "Family" associations and institutes will hoist Mr. Stockton on their shoulders and carry him triumphally to the Statehouse to testify as to how the HRO forced him to support a political political project with which he disagreed. All but our most stalwart allies will disappear into the hills. (Indeed, they could very well press for, and possibly succeed in, invalidating our HRO coverage through the state legislature.)
And if the Commission rules in favor of IUPUI, Stockton will be carried to every community in which we press for local HRO's to include us, where it has already been terribly difficult, and the tape which I hear exists of a confrontation with Lilly Stockton will be offered. And what little courage we have managed to muster among our supporters will evaporate.
For this reason, I believe firmly that our opposition prays (so to speak) fervently for Commission to rule for IUPUI, for they know that in this interpretation of the HRO would the destruction of progress for us in broadening the coverage of nondiscrimination policies in Indiana. In the eyes of our opposition, they know they stand here a chance of giving up meaningless frosted cupcakes in return for our giving up a chance to get employment, housing, and public accommodation protections in place beyond Indianapolis and a few academic communities. For them it will be a good trade; for us, a disaster.
I am reminded of that room so many years ago in which Marla Stevens beseeched our allies to drop their case, telling them of the future. I didn't understand why she was so angry. I do now.
Without Scott Keller and Jackie Nytes, there would be no HRO coverage for us in Indianapolis. Their courage, character, and compassion produced this significant step forward. I suggest to everyone that those two understand the politics of this matter thoroughly, and what this interpretation of the HRO will do to the GLBT community beyond Indianapolis. Acting in our interests, without regard to their personal popularity, they have both now had heaps of personal abuse upon them from our community. While I appreciate the passion for the cause, which I share, I urge that some respect be accorded the two people without whom we here in Indianapolis would have nothing.