Bil Browning

Indiana: South Bend HRO fails again

Filed By Bil Browning | October 26, 2010 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: human rights ordinance, Indiana Equality, South Bend

Once again the South Bend Common Council has voted down an amended human rights ordinance that would expand protections to cover sexual orientation. The ordinance has been brought before the council two other times and has failed each time.

SouthBend_IN.gifIndiana Equality has been getting thousands of dollars from the Tides Foundation to supposedly support these smaller city-based human rights ordinances in the state. Unfortunately, every one they've worked on has failed dramatically except for the addition of gender identity protections in Lafayette. The bulk of the work there was done by a group that is part of the IE coalition.

Most of the activists IE has worked with have complained that the group is sending incompetent people to work on the issues who can't answer simple questions raised by the local politicians. The South Bend organizers have been pushing Indiana Equality out of the way since the first attempt to pass the ordinance and roundly blamed the org for the failure of the proposal in earlier attempts.

Indiana Equality also opposed ENDA even though they are taking in big bucks to pass similar localized legislation and was roundly condemned by most national organizations for their stance. IE also recently chose to support the Indianapolis bakery that refused to sell cupcakes to a gay college group and said upset Hoosier gays were "over reacting" and compared the LGBT community to the Aryan Nation.

Hey, with friends like that who needs fundies?

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Bil, you helped get Indianapolis' HRO pass several years ago. Like South Bend, the Indianapolis CCC voted it down twice as well. What advice would you give to advocates for the South Bend HRO?

Is Eric Miller and Micah Clark and the usual crowd heavily involved in opposing the South Bend ordinance?

I can't speak for anything but my own experience with IE. They were very good at tell me what they couldn't do but not what I could do to help. By the way still waiting for a call to utilize me. :(

In this day and age where you can't even brief people on basic issues and give them a stack of fliers to make people aware...its just sad. All actions contribute to change, not just grand ones.

Education is our biggest need. Only with straight allies will we achieve any measure of equality. It's not wise to put all your eggs in one basket and then be disappointed when you drop it.

Multiple consistent actions are most effective. So stop relying on any single group and make a difference yourself. Create your own local action groups and speak out.

When it becomes local issues then discussion can begin.

Bil -

this post is petty. Your displeasure with IE is well known but I'm surprised that you're letting that cloud your judgment so thoroughly.

Your above post is littered with factual errors (by no measure was Goshen a "dramatic failure"), exaggerations (that hopefully aren't just complete fabrications), and minimizations. Worst of all, you don't even have the courage to make your accusations clear by naming the hard working, ridiculously low paid IE staff member you're disparaging or identifying the "most of the activists" who are supposedly displeased with her work.

Having worked with Dino on a wide variety of issues for the last six months, I think she is doing an inspirational job in incredibly tough environments. She is someone I would have loved to have been working with when I was helping to successfully pass legislation on the local and state level in CA. Your mischaracterization of her efforts is a disservice to her, her work, and your credibility.

As I've written in other comments here on Bilerico, I share your strong disagreement with the position the four IE board members took on the Just Cookie complaint. While I wasn't in Indiana when the IE Board released its position on ENDA, I doubt I would have been in support of that position either.

However, you're seriously missing the mark on IE's field work and risking your integrity in the process.

Chris Daley

I disagree, Chris.

Goshen was a dramatic failure. One of the original co-sponsors voted against it. Why? According to Goshen sources, it was because after the religious right filled the politician's head full of "this could happen and so could this!" scary tales (like saying you think being gay is a sin could put you in prison as hate speech and male teachers will suddenly show up in dresses with hairy legs and demand to be called Pricilla!), Dino followed up with, "Well, I guess they could be right." Vote changed to "No." She caused the failure of the Goshen vote.

As for not naming Dino, it wasn't a deliberate slight. She's not in charge of field operations and she's not the entire problem. The problem is the leadership of IE. I will say, however, that she has no qualifications for the job. She booked lesbian comics to perform shows and ran a feral cat colony. That's it. Her field organizing experience is minimal - especially on LGBT issues. Many much more qualified candidates applied for that position - including folks IE had worked closely with at other orgs both national and local. Dino, however, is an old friend of Kathy Sarris' and even with no experience she still got the job.

Combine that with the utter lack of leadership or progress on LGBT issues and what do you have? An ineffective group. Can you name one issue that IE has won for us in the past few years? Just one. Lafayette is off the table - that was the local group. The Ball State Hospital incident too - that was INTRAA. Bloomington's addition of "gender identity"? Nope. That was local politicians who actually rebuffed IE.

South Bend is home to Notre Dame University, one of the most homophobic schools in the country. That part of the state isn't known for its gayfriendliness.

Chris Daley | October 27, 2010 1:39 PM

Bil, I appreciate having the context for some of the assertions in your post. Apologies for posting this long reply but I want to try to address the issues you’ve raised.

To answer your question, a significant accomplishment of IE is that Indiana remains one of a small handful of red states that has not yet had to fight a constitutional marriage amendment.

Beyond that, I think you have some incomplete/incorrect facts on Ball Memorial and West Lafayette. As I've written in response to other comments you've made about Ball Memorial, the work there was a complete partnership between IE and INTRAA. This is simply a fact and I think everyone involved in the work would agree.

In terms of WL, my understanding is that Dino's work was a major component of that victory. To clarify, her work (as I understand it) is to support the efforts of local groups trying to pass these initiatives and educate government officials and community members about sexual orientation and gender identity issues. As just one example of the impact of her work, it's my understanding that West Lafayette's Human Rights Commissioner (who was the expert the electeds looked to in debating the resolution) relied heavily on resources Dino provided to him in successfully making his case to the City Council.

What none of these three victories explicitly conveys, though, is the equally important work IE's field program does to build support for equality even when a bill doesn't pass. Here are two quick examples from SB (which Alex correctly identifies as an incredibly hard get for LGBT rights). First, the simple fact that the ordinance included both gender identity and sexual orientation is a significant victory. Second, local leaders and media outlets came out in support of the bill -- building increased support for our community. As I think you know, even when we lose the vote, we oftentimes still make progress.

I wasn't at Goshen. It sounds like you weren't either. I have never heard anyone blame Dino for the one vote loss there, though. What I have heard is that the right wing bussed in hundreds of people from out of town, took over the meeting on the second vote (after the initiative passed on the first vote a month before), and intimidated the elected you mention into changing his vote. In that environment, it seems very unfair to me to single out any one comment from any one person as the reason a vote didn't go our way. Doing so sets every single person trying to make change for our community up for failure and results in the kind of "eat our own" mentality that drives so many people away from a long term commitment to this work.

Further, the comment you attribute to Dino does not sound anything like her. It does sound like the kind of community myth that often gets circulated after a defeat in an effort to (oftentimes unintentionally) find a scapegoat. So I hope you did some degree of due diligence about both the veracity and impact of that comment before presenting it to the world as THE reason the vote failed.

Also, based on my experience, Dino does 85-90% of IE's paid field work in local communities (volunteer board members, as in West Lafayette, also do a good deal in their own cities and towns). I would say she is as "in charge" of the work that IE does in these local communities as anyone else. So a broad brush attack on the field program really is an attack on her much more than anyone else. It is also my understanding that the grant money that IE receives from the State Equality Fund (administered by Tides) solely supports expenses related to Dino's work. So, again, to the degree that you imply that this money is being wasted, you are only implicating Dino's work. Neither of these outcomes may have been the intent of your post, but for anyone who actually knows how IE is currently operating that is the only available understanding.

Finally, I have no idea what happened when IE hired Dino. You think more qualified people were overlooked in favor of her. That may be true. However, your characterization of her prior experience is (I hope unintentionally) incorrect. Beyond that, three of the four or five key things I looked for when I hired staff and consultants to organize were passion, connections, and people skills. Dino has all of these in excess. Again, based on my experience working with her, she is very qualified to do this work and is doing a terrific job.

I don’t hold out much hope that these facts and observations are going to change the way you view IE’s field work in the future. Your views are what they are. I am only putting them out there to offer a counter to the attacks you launched (perhaps unintentionally) against Dino in your original post.

Rick Sutton | October 27, 2010 3:53 PM

I'm well aware of the South Bend HRO efforts. Dino worked hard. I wasn't aware she had run a feral cat colony but if so, bully for her. Herding cats is a perfect job skill for her efforts in the last week.

You and I agree on some things, and on this, we're far apart. I know first-hand the efforts of recent weeks in South Bend, and other cities. The ground-work being done in many communities has and will raise awareness and help our overall cause over time. The faith community alone has done untold hours of spade work. All quietly.

Why would we ever rejoice in a lost vote? Because we don't like the (supposed) messengers or acolytes of change? Better be careful, Bil. Today's enemy may need to be tomorrow's friend. We don't have enough friends on these issues, to be so damned flippant about defeats.

Much more work remains to be done in many communities. Dino and others are rolling up their sleeves to do it. She gets paid. Others don't. It doesn't seem to make a difference. I don't hear any of them demanding any credit.

The job needs done. I'm not sure the cheerleaders care how it gets done. Or, as with the Indy HRO, who ultimately claims all the credit.

This week, our message ought to be: thanks to Councilman Davis and others who bravely stood in front of 300 persons Monday night and offered a common-sense approach to equality. May their tribe multiply.

We can autopsy this later. Hopefully a little less-publicly.