Bil Browning

Advance Indiana vs Indiana Equality

Filed By Bil Browning | January 14, 2009 9:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics

Advance Indiana blogger and gay Republican Gary Welsh and I share a mutual distaste for Indiana's statewide LGBT group, Indiana Equality. As soon as I think we might have found common ground - like disbelief at IE President Kathy Sarris's constant preening for getting "hate crimes reporting" legislation passed (without any bill making a hate crime, well, a crime) - partisan politics intervenes.

After the Indianapolis police department "vowed to step up efforts to identify and report hate crimes" in reaction to LGBT community outrage over two recent double homicides and IMPD's lack of communication with the community, a post on Advance Indiana tries to smear the good news by insinuating bad intent on the org's part.

In 2007, I broke the story on how IMPD under the Peterson administration had stopped collecting and reporting statistics on hate crimes as provided under Indiana law. The group which represents itself as Indiana's premier GLBT organization, Indiana Equality, refused to take action on the matter because it would shine an embarrassing light on Mayor Bart Peterson, who the group supported over Greg Ballard. Although the group claims to be nonpartisan, it operates as an extension of the Democratic Party. Now that Republican Greg Ballard is in office, the group decided something needed done to shine light on the problem. It's now taking credit for Public Safety Director Scott Newman's announcement that IMPD is taking steps to ensure compliance with Indiana's state reporting law.

Leaving aside the passive-aggressive dig that IE is somehow stealing the blogger's thunder by working on an issue the blogger wrote about, I'd like to focus on one specific sentence - "Although the group claims to be nonpartisan, it operates as an extension of the Democratic Party."

Nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, the organization has been ran primarily by gay Republicans since its inception.

On-again-off-again Bilerico-Indiana blogger Chris Douglas and Sarris were two of the major forces behind the fledgling coalition of groups that eventually morphed into today's equality organization. Douglas, a former lobbyist for an earlier LGBT organization, and Sarris, a member of Republican former Governor Robert Orr's administration, are both well-known party loyalists and defenders who maintained their connections in political circles. Both also lobbied the LGBT community on behalf of Governor Mitch Daniel's campaign in 2004.

The group has struggled with fundraising because of perceptions that they were Republican-dominated. At one point in the coalition's history, the group refused Stonewall Democrats' admittance in an attempt to stay non-partisan that ended in a public relations nightmare; affiliated groups splintered off along mostly partisan lines and momentum was lost for years.

In an attempt to shore up fundraising efforts and board member relations, the notoriously ill-tempered Sarris was shuffled off to the 501(c)(3) board for 2008. After some organizational reorganizing and a large influx of grant money, Sarris has again taken control of the group when the not-for-profit arm was re-named "Indiana Equality" earlier this year (instead of "Indiana Equality Education Fund"). The original Indiana Equality, a 501(c)(4), became "Indiana Equality Action."

Lately, the organization has become much more non-partisan in their behind-the-scenes politics after lobbyist Mark St. John was tacitly given free reign. St. John, a former Republican candidate for the Bloomington City Council, is a Stonewall Democrats board member, but works with legislators from both parties on behalf of his various clients. 2008 Indiana Equality board chair, Randy Studt, and 2009 Indiana Equality Action board chair, Walter Botich, are both Democrats.

There's plenty about IE to criticize; we don't need to make stuff up. While the group has it's flaws, being "an extension of the Democratic Party" isn't one of them.

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Notoriously ill-tempered she may be, but Sarris does serve up a killer lobster bisque.

The Pasta ala Elekta is pretty tasty too. Hands down my favorite dish at Aesop's Tables.

Indeed, D Bertram, the lobster bisque at Aesop's Tables is the best I've ever had!

Douglas Meagher | January 18, 2009 11:36 AM

There is only one statewide GLBT organization that is unabashedly Democratic - The Indiana Stonewall Democrats (ISD). Chris Douglas is a personal friend and a force for good in the Republican Party. However, IE has tended to regard ISD with some suspicion and disregard. ISD has had its good times and its bad, but there is no mistaking what we're all about: raising money and votes for Democratic Party candidates who support our community on issues of importance to us. That simple. Not all Democrats are good on GLBT issues. Part of Stonewall's mission is change such attitudes. I and other Stonewall Democrats are constantly perplexed at the notion that Republicans are somehow better on GLBT issues than most Democrats. Gay republicans, some IE members and Mr. Welsh may be able to point to one thing, event, person or another circumstance and legitmately call into question how supportive some Democrats are of our community. But we in ISD prefer to light a candle rather than curse the darkness and we always applaud IE's work and successes.

Douglas Meagher | January 18, 2009 12:12 PM

I should have qualified the sentence that IE has tended to regard Stonewall with some suspicion and disregard. As Bil noted, that attitude has passed for the most part.

Wally Paynter | January 22, 2009 4:55 PM

IE continues to stumble in local communities as well. Randy Studt of IE came to Evansville to try to ment fences. But when the largest LGBT group in Southwestern Indiana requested a follow-up meeting to see if there is any common mutually convenient dates came from IE, and IE dropped the effort. Leaders from Evansville left the coalition years ago in a split over whether Joe Kernan or Mitch Daniels was better on LGBT issues.