Bil Browning

GetEqual wins big in Indianapolis

Filed By Bil Browning | October 27, 2010 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Frank Staub, GetEqual, Indiana Equality, police liaison

GetEqual Indiana has pulled off a coup in Indianapolis. After meeting with the city this morning about sensitivity training for Indy police officers, the group not only walked out with the full support of the city for diversity training but also with the promise that tomorrow city leaders will announce the appointment of a police liaison to the LGBT community.

Indianapolis.jpgGetEqual Indiana's founder, David Stevens, and Heather Cronk, Managing Director for the group nationally, met this morning with Public Safety Director Frank Straub and Deputy Director of Public Safety Carolyn Requiz-Smith. Indiana Equality lobbyist Mark St. John tried to force his way into the meeting claiming that Requiz-Smith invited him to attend Stevens' requested meeting but both she and Stevens denied that he was an invited guest. Stevens, in fact, deliberately asked St. John to leave and stop harassing him.

When Indiana's GetEqual chapter condemned Indiana Equality's stance supporting a local bakery that refused to serve a gay college group, IE wasn't happy. GetEqual pointed out that IE had jumped on the bandwagon to hold a protest outside of the bakery, suddenly offered support to the student group it had previously brushed off as unimportant, and tried to grab as much media as possible only to turn around and condemn LGBT activists as "over reacting."

When Stevens made a stink out of IMPD's sensitivity and diversity training omitting the LGBT community and got the meeting with city leaders, St. John went off the rails. What followed was a repeat of Indiana Equality's usual tactics of intimidation and bullying, but you won't believe the behind-the-scenes details. They're after the jump.

When I reported on IMPD's insensitivity surrounding the murder of transwoman Taysia Elzy and her boyfriend in 2008, I called for the city to establish a police liaison with the LGBT community. Indiana Equality jumped on that bandwagon and rushed into a meeting with city leaders and came out proclaiming victory. The liaison never materialized however and the city claimed that they'd never promised IE a liaison. Other meeting attendees also called to say that the IE version was untrue and massively overblown.

When Stevens trumpeted his concern over IMPD's announced sensitivity training that neglected to include LGBT people on Facebook, he also said that he'd requested a meeting with the city. Stevens asked for community support in his Facebook messages.

Shortly after, St. John called Stevens to scream at him that a police liaison wasn't needed in Indianapolis because "there are plenty of gay police officers." St. John also berated Stevens for "making IE look bad." Stevens reportedly told St. John to back off and stop yelling at him. When St. John wouldn't comply, Stevens ended the call.

Over the next few days, Stevens life became a living hell as St. John swung the IE club at him. As someone who's also faced the wrath of St. John and IE, Stevens reached out to me to see if I could give him any advice. (St. John has physically attacked me, screamed at me often, and was often found in local bars demeaning not only me but my relationship and my daughter - all because I had the audacity to suggest that Indiana could use better LGBT leadership.)

I called Robin McGehee and Heather Cronk from the national GetEqual office and let them know how much guff Stevens was taking from the established org and the two swung into action. When Stevens said he was uncomfortable with speaking to the media, I hooked him up with GLAAD so they could assist him with messaging.

On a conference call for GetEqual Indiana members a day or so later, St. John attempted to join the call even though he's not a member. When Stevens asked St. John to leave the private call, he told St. John in no uncertain terms that he was taking his advice from the national GetEqual folks and GLAAD who had suggested that he try to avoid the lobbyist so as not to make things worse for himself or give St. John info he could use to undercut GetEqual. St. John begrudgingly left the call after making a big stink.

Cronk flew from DC to Indianapolis to attend the meeting with Stevens and was shocked to see St. John appear at the City-County Building like an invited guest. While Stevens had notified the city that Cronk would be attending with him, no one expected IE's lobbyist to show up again and attempt to barge into the conversation. Stevens again asked St. John to leave, but the lobbyist refused and walked into the room. After it became clear that he wasn't wanted, St. John claimed he had another meeting to attend anyhow and left the room.

Once IE's representative had left the room, the activists and city leaders got down to business. While GetEqual had only expected to be included in police sensitivity trainings, they'd decided earlier in the week to push the city on establishing a police liaison again. I had counseled them that they would probably need to go further up the food chain than the Deputy Director and to expect that their request would be passed along without a definite answer.

Instead, Public Safety Director Frank Straub, who reports directly to Mayor Ballard, entered the room, listened to their request for a liaison and agreed to create the position. He told the GetEqual folks that it was about time the city had an LGBT police liaison as they do with other communities and asked them to join him tomorrow for an official press conference with city leaders.

I'm incredibly proud of the GetEqual members for tackling the city and their own community to actually create change in Indianapolis. Once again, progress in Indiana was made by circumventing the troubled organization that routinely sells out the Hoosier LGBT community in favor of personal gain for board members. It's not easy to be on the bad side of the Indiana Equality thugs; it's draining, disheartening and depressing when your supposed champions actively work against you. GetEqual, however, is used to that.

"This is a big step forward for the gay community in Indianapolis," Stevens texted me following today's meeting. As I posted yesterday, LGBT progress in Indiana has effectively ended under IE's leadership. This is the biggest pro-LGBT news to hit Indy since I organized an unheard of coalition of small progressive groups to successfully fight for the city's inclusive human rights ordinance. When IE leadership took over the coalition after the HRO passed, it quickly fell apart.

"I was so proud today to support the incredible work of GetEqual Indiana and I look forward to watching their progress as they continue to empower LGBT Hoosiers to own their own equality," Cronk sent me after the meeting.

I couldn't agree more.

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Chris Daley | October 27, 2010 2:28 PM

This is a great outcome! Huge congrats to David, Heather, and GetEqual Indiana.

Cue the AndrewW rant about GetEqual in 3,2,1...
Congrats to GetEqual. Glad to see some real progress made.

A victory is a victory. Why anyone would complain because they are not involved is just wrong. Is it not hard enough to achieve breakthroughs without having to fight our own community?

If any organization can not applaud a victory by a fellow group then they certainly are not looking out for LGBT interests. They are looking out for themselves. I can't support that train of thought.

Good job GetEqual Indiana!

Hello....AndrewW...yoo-hoo? Where are you? I know you demand proof of results from GetEQUAL's actions.
You got it today. Why aren't you posting....CHILDISH...STUPID...? Cat has your tongue?

AndrewW is on the road, having been summoned by the White House for a top-level political advisory job (or maybe he went to White Horse, Alaska -- the voicemail I intercepted -- er, I mean, received -- was badly garbled).

Fool that I am, I am volunteering to step in to fill his spot, although I speak only for myself, not him.

OK, so far GetEQUAL has managed to (a) meet with the IMPD, (b) generate a big news story, and (c) make our community look like a bunch of spoiled brats because of the way they showed off our internal bitching-bickering-and-backbiting in front of the IMPD.

The IMPD liaison to the LGBT community might prove to be something worthwhile -- or it might be a lot of lip service and window dressing that has no real impact. (Note the recent problem the LGBT liaison in Atlanta got herself into.) So I have a mildly congratulatory but otherwise wait-and-see attitude about this.

But now I fear that GetEQUAL will act like they own all access to the IMPD. If they do, this will piss me off royally, because I probably pay more taxes to support the IMPD than GetEQUAL does. (After all, do they own any real estate inside Indianapolis city limits, so that they pay property taxes to Marion County?)

Yes, Mark St. John is a shmuck for trying to break into the meeting -- but it looks to me that GetEQUAL is playing exactly the same game that Mark St. John is. The name of that game is "My group getting credit is more important than serving the best interests of the LGBT community."

Who knows ... my cynicism may be pre-mature, and GetEQUAL and the LGBT liaison might do a good job ... but somehow I get the impression that the signs of that aren't good, that this turf war is likely only to get worse, and eventually, one way or other, the Indy LGBT community as a whole will be no better off, and may even suffer for it.

Time will tell.

AJ, I think your cynicism is misplaced. I've been a very vocal critic of GetEqual in the past, but comparing them to IE is simply not reality here.

You may not have the history with IE and St. John the rest of us do, but this is their MO to a tee. What's worse, IE and St. John have actively worked AGAINST equality several times to serve their own interests rather than the community they claim to serve.

GetEqual may have problems, but they are no IE. They deserve this credit because they did the work even though IE was actively and vociferously opposing it in every way possible.

Maybe there will be problems with the liaison, etc. But that's just part of running a large police force in a big city. Indy was one of the few large cities in the nation to NOT have an LGBT liaison and it was well past time to make it happen.

This is a very positive win for Indy.

I would just simply point out that GetEqual Indiana accomplished this without civil disobedience, street dram or even heckling. They used "conversation," not confrontation. Maybe they're learning.

* Nice job A.J. I agree that GetEQUAL is trying to use this event in Indy for their own benefit. But, I would simply credit the locals more than Robin, Kip or Heather (the professionals).