Bil Browning

Like throwing lions to the Christians

Filed By Bil Browning | September 28, 2009 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Advance Indiana, Eric Miller, IAN, Indiana Action Network, Indiana Family Institute, LGBT rights, marriage amendment, marriage equality, Rock Indiana, same-sex marriage

Let's take a trip in the Wayback machine to 2005. Same-sex marriage started in Massachusetts in May of 2004. In January of 2005, a legal challenge to Indiana's DOMA law brought by the ACLU on 3080502.jpgbehalf of three same-sex couples was defeated and the plaintiffs decided not to appeal so they wouldn't "set a legal precedent that could hinder future challenges" across the nation. That March a right-wing fundie political group called Advance America held a rally at the Indiana Statehouse demanding the legislature pass an amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.

As it became obvious that our state equality group wasn't going to protest this latest slap in the face, a handful of activists began planning a counter rally outside of the Statehouse while the rightwingers gathered inside. Not satisfied with being left outside in the cold, four of us decided to face down the fundies inside directly and call them out on their lies.

It wasn't long before we were surrounded and protected by state police as thousands of religious right zealots bayed for our blood. Video and pictures after the jump.

The forward motion of coastal states sometimes creates a backlash here in Indiana; not everything that benefits our movement helps all LGBT people. Sometimes our brother and sisters from more progressive areas fail to realize that there are very real repercussions to their struggles that they rarely see. I don't begrudge them their victories - far from it; I simply want them to acknowledge that their advance could have a cost they don't pay.

Indiana isn't a hotbed of marriage equality activism. Our state equality org doesn't support marriage equality, but instead fights against a marriage amendment. (Think about it for a minute and you'll see the reasoning behind the strategic move.) Nonetheless, when Advance America announced it would be rallying homophobes at the Indiana Statehouse, the local LGBT mailing list went wild.

3080503.jpgPepper Partin and a handful of other activists decided to plan and lead the Rock Indiana rally outside of the Statehouse and they delivered the Hoosier state's largest LGBT rally. As over 2000 evangelical Christians and politicians from both sides of the political divide thundered their disapproval of our relationships, Rock Indiana drew over 1000 LGBT people and allies outside in the snow and bitter cold.

The Mission

Jerame Davis, Seth Kreigh, Jeff Newman and I plotted to interrupt the Advance America rally. With a dozen prominent politicians scheduled to speak and momentum for a marriage amendment growing quickly, we felt someone had to directly confront these jokers when they blatantly lied.

We formed a small group called Indiana Action Network and Jerame, Seth and I ironed the group's logo on the back of white dress shirts. To complete our disguise we bought old sportscoats at Goodwill to hide the doctored shirts.

On the day of the rally Jerame, Seth, and I dressed in our Christian drag and milled around inside while still staying on the edge of the crowd by the stage. Jeff ran a video camera and kept his distance so he could remain an unconnected observer.

All four network television stations had sent news crews to cover the dueling rallies. We knew we had an opportunity like no other when we overheard the news crew standing next to us that they were going to a live shot for the noon broadcast.

Just as we saw the reporter acknowledge the toss, the leader of the rally screeched one of many lies of the day. That is when we threw off our coats to expose our gay rights logo and started screaming "Liar!" and pumping our fists in the air.

That's when all hell broke loose.

Like Christians Thrown to the Lions

Notice that right after we started calling out the lies, the fundies went nuts. They started shoving us, spitting on us, and screaming in our faces. The one thing these rightwingers didn't expect was for the gays to fight back and publicly label them for the jackasses they are.

Jerame, Seth and I were together and the plan was for all of us to make our way to the middle aisle and stand in front of the podium where we'd shout every time one of the speakers told a lie. (After all, lying is a sin too!) Once we started, Seth was able to make his way to the middle of the room but Jerame and I were surrounded and blocked off.

The Indiana State Police quickly moved to intervene and surrounded the three of us. The brave men and women in uniform didn't attempt to remove us from the building, instead they were there to protect us while we exercised our right to free speech. It took over a dozen uniformed officers to keep the fundies from tearing us to bits like a Christian fed to the lions. We continued yelling and disrupting the anti-gay speakers through the entire rally.

As it ended, the police escorted us to the exit for our safety. The Rock Indiana folks were starting to stream into the building after word spread that a few of us were inside taking on the religious right, but the police kept them on either side of the large hallways that lead to the Statehouse rotunda. When we emerged into the hall, the entire place erupted in cheers and clapping as we blinked in surprise at finding hundreds of LGBT activists inside the Statehouse waiting for us.

As the fundies left their anti-gay rally, they too had to walk down the corridor lined with LGBT activists. We chanted and stomped and - civilly - let them know how strongly we disagreed with their prejudiced and hateful agenda. We told the religious right, the media and our state politicians that we weren't going to be the whipping post any longer.

Doing the Work Cut Out for Us

Local political reporter Normon Cox says at the end of his ABC report:

"Gay and lesbian organizers say they believe they can stop the proposed constitutional amendment which must pass this legislature, then the one elected in two years, and then a referendum by the people. But given the huge favorable margins it has received so far in the legislature, they may have their work cut out for them."

Indiana's proposed amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage and civil unions passed in 2005, but failed to pass the next hurdle and never made it to referendum. While Indiana has a DOMA law that bans same-sex marriages, it is one of very few states that do not have a constitutional amendment.


Because the state's largest LGBT rally happened that day in the snow and the cold. Because a few activists decided to speak truth to power in a way that had never happened before in Indiana. Because we refused to be left out of the discussion.

Instead of a one-sided monologue hell-bent on stripping us of our dignity, we kick-started a real discussion on the merits and facts of this amendment. We responded to the lies and misrepresentations and we got the truth into the hands of legislators.

The LGBT community came away energized, excited and ready to fight. We weren't fighting for Massachusetts' marriage rights or even our own since it was already illegal.

We fought for ourselves because no one else would.

With no hate crimes protections, no employment non-discrimination laws, no housing or public accommodations protections, we still fight for our lives.

Every day.

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Thank you. You guys are absolutely awesome.

What a great day! So much to remember about it.

The snow and cold, folks showing up in their work suits to grab a sign and protest.....parents and children.

1000 cold and angry people that had had enough of the hate filled bigotry that was being hurled at them.

Watching the Feds, watch us, from across the street.

Hoaglin's To Go brought us huge vats of coffee to help keep us warm.

And you brave guys inside standing up to Eric Miller and 2000 of his merry bigots.

*sigh* It was a beautiful thing.

For what it worth, Zac is right. There is a big difference between the old and young activists, but we both have and will serve a huge purpose in this fight.

Thanks for the walk down memory lane, Bil!

"Our state equality org doesn't support marriage equality, but instead fights against a marriage amendment."

What about Marriage Equality USA? We have a statewide chapter here in Indiana that fights every day for full marriage rights. Not just defending against a marriage ban/amendment.

I remember the '05 rally. It was cold and feisty. Try planning a rally in Jan-March now (outside Indy)... you'll get a handful. My question is.... What happened?

We as a community were out in force at that rally and the Nov 15th 2008 rallies. Where did that energy and that fight go?

Thanks, Bil. That is a sobering, but truly inspiring post!!

It's what needs to happen.

*Anywhere* such is seen.

Call out the lies -- be direct, be blunt, *be*.

Good job :)

Teddy Partridge | September 29, 2009 3:20 AM

It is for this reason that I will never understand American gays' love for Gavin Newsom. Sure, he gave us San Franciscans some pretty pictures and some out-of-town couples happy memories during his illegal Winter of Love, but the backlash he created directly led to our brothers and sisters in 26 states becoming second-class citizens, constitutionally.

How can LGBTs everywhere not recognize how Newsom's calculated political gambit hurt our movement, and all of us, especially those of us who strugggle every day to live peaceful productive lives in environments that we hope will eventually achieve "tolerance?"

San Franciscans will always treasure those moments, but the harm done across America will never be worth it. I hope we are eventually forgiven for our celebrations by those whose lives were ripped asunder elsewhere,

You guys were (and ARE!) heroes. THANKS!!!!

Dangit, Bil! Makin' me cry at work like that! *sniffle*

I'm pretty sure I didn't know you, or barely-sorta knew who you were, at that point. So thanks for the recap. Didn't think I could be any prouder of you -- but sure enough, there it is. *hugs to all the brave and awesome people involved*

This is why Bil Browning rocks SO HARD!

Sorry, but it's not just me! Jerame, Seth and Jeff were all there too - plus everyone outside braving the snow and cold. Poor Seth was the only one to make it to the middle aisle, but got shoved around by the loving Christians for his troubles.

That was an amazing day to say the least. Believe it or not, up to that point I had no idea who you or Jerame even were and I had not yet met Pepper in person. Now I count you all as friends.

That day was a serious turning point for me and served as an inspiration for my community activism. I had never been so proud of our community for turning out in droves, the creativity of the signs, the cohesiveness, the mutual support and respect we all shared. IAN's distruption inside the Statehouse and the timing of it to be caught on live TV couldn't have been more perfect.

When Advance America caught wind of the counter rally, they of course couldn't be outnumbered, so they bussed in all those kids from private Christian schools. I will never forget standing out there with my glbt brothers and sisters and watching bus by bus drive by and the vacant stares on those kids' faces as they looked at us incredulously. It literally sent chills up my spine.


It was a great day indeed.

I respectfully need to point out a few corrections:

1. The macro plan as set forth by Rock Indiana, which originally included you, Seth, Jerame, and Jeff, was to have an indoor disruption and an outdoor protest.

2. The original plan for the outdoor protest was to go indoors and lobby our legislators after all speakers had finished speaking. Or at least this was my plan, and the protestors were prepared to lobby.

3. Just want to point out to your readers that the news clip in your article has my name below Kathy Sarris. That's definitely not me speaking in that clip.

You guys were very brave to go inside and disrupt the Eric Miller followers. It took a lot of courage. Kudos.


Pepper, I'm so glad you've joined the thread. As the Rock Indiana main organizer, I was hoping you'd chime in. (And I'd love it if you wrote a guest post about your experience organizing the outside rally!)

You're right - I'd forgotten that the outside rally attendees were going inside to lobby. Thanks for pointing that out. Oh, and your name and Kathy Sarris' picture? Priceless. She did everything in her power to stop you and then had to suffer the "indignity" of having her face over your name. Oh how we laughed about that.

I guess Kathy Sarris and I have one thing in common: I was just as insulted, if not more so, when her face was associated with my name.

Thank you for the invitation to write about the rally. October is a very busy month for me. I will give your invitation consideration when things die down a bit at the beginning of November.