In a Surprise Turn of Events, Proposed Events Ordinance Stalls

More than 115 people attended the November 4 Commissioners Meeting.

The first floor of the county courthouse was packed last night with more than 120 attendees, most of whom were present to learn about the fate of the proposed special events ordinance that was unveiled to the public on October 21. The controversial ordinance, which has been driven by County Commissioner Board President Jeff Brothers, would have profoundly impacted the Spencer Pride Festival & Owen County events if it passed.

The main concerns expressed about the ordinance included its sweeping new authority over all Owen County events, ambiguous wording and lack of clear standards, as well as the high fees proposed. Other specific new restrictions were also addressed, including the elimination of courthouse access for all special events.

After more than an hour of public comment, the Commissioners Jeff Brothers and Steve Williamson voted to table the ordinance to make revisions based on public feedback.  Commissioner Gary Burton was not in attendance.

 CONFUSING “CLARIFICATION” BY COUNTY ATTORNEY

Prior to commencing with public feedback, county attorney Jim Bryan gave an overview of the ordinance. His self-described intent was to help clarify some key areas of the ordinance.

Unfortunately, as speakers later pointed out, the attorney got some of the fundamental facts about the proposed ordinance wrong. For example, Bryan stated that if the ordinance passes, the definition of a special event in Owen County would be unchanged.

Contrary to Bryan’s statement, the definition of a special event is different between the current and proposed ordinances. The difference is small on paper, but huge in application of the ordinance. It is also one of the areas most concerning about the ordinance, as the first public speaker pointed out.

Bill Williams, Jr. was first to the podium out of the list of 26 approved speakers for the ‘public comment’ portion of the ordinance discussion. Williams expressed concerns about the ordinance’s broad authority over events that were on private property.

Representatives from community organizations, some of whom organize special events or are otherwise impacted by the county’s special events, were the largest contingent of speakers speaking in opposition to the ordinance.

Ginger Kohr from the Owen County Library also expressed opposition to the proposed ordinance, in part due to its vague wording. She began her statement by first referring back to the opening comments by the County Attorney, Jim Bryan:

“The attorney’s words sound comforting,” Kohr told the audience, “but it’s the words in the ordinance that we have to live by.”

 “THIS IS NOT FEELING LIKE LOVE TO ME AT ALL”

Melody Kinder-Carpenter, who spoke as a representative of the Rev 20 Christian Music Festival, shared similar concerns about how the ordinance had been worded.

“Some of the language is a little foggy so I’d suggest it be rewritten,” Kinder-Carpenter said.

She went on: “When we began the Rev 20 Festival, we believed in the tapestry & fabric of what our county stands for…”.

She spoke of several things that make Owen County special, including the Faith of many people who live here. She noted that the proposed ordinance would “drive disconnect and not join people together.”

“[This ordinance] doesn’t feel right in our house. This is not feeling like love to me at all.” Tears could be seen among several of members of the audience.

 “IF YOU AREN’T LISTENING TO THE PEOPLE, YOU AREN’T DOING THE JOB”

Niki Gessler was very direct in her comments to the Commissioners during Monday night’s meeting.

The lack of public input in the drafting of the ordinance was a theme throughout the evening, but was made most clear when Niki Gessler addressed the commissioners.

Gessler, who has been involved in several events in nearby Gosport, spoke without accompaniment of a microphone, yet everyone heard her statement loud and clear.

“I know it’s not easy doing this job,” Gessler said. “Getting calls 24/7 from the thousands of people who pay your salary… but that’s the job. If you aren’t listening to the people, you aren’t doing the job.”

 THE IMPACT ON LOCAL, SMALL BUSINESSES

Jaime Sweany (Juniper Gallery), Ben Williams (Civilian Brewing Corps), and Ann Henk (Owen Valley Flooring) were a few of the business owners who spoke out. They highlighted, in part, the positive economic benefits they see during special events.

“The whole quaint small town atmosphere is lost when you move these festivals from the square,” Henk noted.

Henk also highlighted the likely cost of litigation that will arise if the ordinance was passed: “The litigation serves no one but the attorneys. I’d rather see money go to infrastructure – like our roads – as well as education.”

Denise Sudol, owner of the Dragonfly Gallery, spoke passionately about her investment in Spencer’s downtown and her ongoing tax contribution as a business within the county.  She noted that her monthly income was reduced by half when the Apple Butter Festival relocated from downtown Spencer to the Owen County Fairgrounds.

“It’s important for us to be a total community. We need the courthouse. It’s OUR courthouse,” Sudol stated unapologetically.

At the end of the 2 minute allowance for her statement, she continued.

“I know my time is up,” Sudol said, directing her comment to the Commissioners. “I think it’s about time for yours to be up as well.”

Both Sweeney and Sudol had noted that their businesses, located just a stone’s throw from the courthouse doors, had never been patronized by any of the three current county commissioners.

 THE PEOPLE’S HOUSE

Julie Coffin addressed the Owen County Commissioners during the November 4 meeting.

Mark Rogers, Executive Director of the Owen County Community Foundation, spoke about the need to encourage fairs & festivals. He spoke specifically about the proposed elimination of access to the county courthouse for all special events.

“We strongly believe that the people’s house should remain open for fairs & festivals throughout the year,” Rogers declared.

Also taking the opportunity to mention the proposed changes regarding courthouse use was Julie Coffin, who spoke to the commissioners in her capacity as President of Spencer Main Street.

Spencer Main Street coordinates the annual “Christmas at the Square” festival which includes events hosted by local downtown businesses as well as the courthouse itself. At the heart of Christmas at the Square is Santa Claus, who speaks with more than 300 kids every year, all from the courtroom on the second floor of the Owen County Courthouse.

“[Without the courthouse] the core of Christmas at the Square is gone,” Coffin spoke somberly to those present.

 SAVING SANTA

Unsurprisingly, Santa came up several times during the course of the meeting.

Casey Shively spoke as a citizen of Owen County about the importance of Spencer’s festivals and events. A self-described import, Shively came to Owen County 6 years ago and said she feels blessed to have been able to be a witness and participant to some of the downtown revitalization.

“Is it worth kicking Santa out of the courthouse to get drag queens off the lawn?” Shively asked the commissioners as she wrapped up her statement. Her comment alluded to the motivation by Commissioner Brothers to move forward with this ordinance in order to hinder progress of the Spencer Pride Festival.

Spencer Pride was also brought up by Barbara Thompson. Thompson is also a recent Owen County resident, having purchased a home in Gosport last year. Thompson’s first experience in Owen County was 5 year ago when she had the opportunity to attend Pride. She enjoyed the experience and reflected on it positively when she ultimately contemplated her move to Owen County.

Janet Rummel spoke on behalf of Spencer Pride. Rummel highlighted a couple of the major issues within the proposed ordinance.

“IT WOULD BE THE DEATH OF US”

High fees in the proposed ordinance, relative to similar communities in Indiana, was brought up several times.  Although the county attorney had attempted to justify the fees in his opening statement, he told the crowd that his comparison of fees was benchmarked with the fee structure of Bloomington & South Bend. People were quick to point out the flaws in comparing our county to those of much wealthier places.

Susan Summerlot from the Vandalia Preservation Historic Association spoke about the impact that the new harsh fee would have on an annual fundraiser she helps coordinate each year.

“If we had to pay the fees, it would be the death of us,” she told the County Commissioners.  The fundraiser only brings in about $400 per year and a $200 application fee plus a $500 refundable deposit would exhaust the limited financial resources of the organization.

Jennifer Abrel shared a similar story about events coordinated by the Purdue Extension Office. The Purdue Extension Office is located on county property. Unless changes are made to the proposed ordinance, Jennifer informed the Commissioners, this “would effectively end Extension programming.”

 MOVING FORWARD

Jonathan Balash, Spencer Pride president and spokesperson of the Spencer Downtown Event Coalition, pointed out that either the proposed ordinance should be amended, or the existing ordinance should be better managed by the Commissioners. If the proposed ordinance were to be amended to reduce fees, remove ambiguous requirements, & add clear standards, it could be acceptable to the SDEC, Balash informed the Commissioners.

Balash also pointed out that the Coalition has offered on multiple occasions to work collaboratively with the Commissioners on improving the ordinance. To date, the Commissioners have ignored those offers.

Ben Williams offered his perspective on how the process of drafting and evaluating the proposed ordinance could have been improved.

“A lot of our fears, hostilities, and misinformation could be quelled by opening up the lines of communication,” Williams said to the audience before turning to the commissioners and continuing: “…Starting at the top.”

 ORDINANCE TABLED (FOR NOW)

“The presence of so many citizens at tonight’s County Commissioners Meeting, and the seemingly endless list of speakers who spoke overwhelmingly on behalf of downtown events and in opposition to the proposed ordinance, is a testament to our amazing local community,” said Balash.

“They care deeply about the preservation of all special events, including our Spencer Pride Festival.”

Before voting to table the ordinance for the evening, President Brothers complained to the audience about the way he had been portrayed in many of the sentiments expressed.  Few attendees seemed to sympathize with him.

When the vote was finished, the crowd cheered.   While many had hoped for this outcome, there were likely few bets that it would end this way.   Given Commissioner Brothers’ recent statements, it was widely assumed that the ordinance would pass.

Whether the tabling of the vote is` a genuine effort by the Commissioners to start listening to the public, or whether this is a tactic to stall a vote until public outcry subsides is unclear.

For now, this was a huge milestone for the community.   Citizens are encouraged to remain vigilant on this topic, nonetheless.

Open Letter to the Owen County Commissioners

Commissioners Brothers, Williamson, & Burton:

On behalf of the Spencer Pride Board of Directors, I am writing to provide our feedback on the recently proposed special events ordinance for Owen County.

Spencer Pride supports efforts to improve the county’s special events ordinance. Making sure that taxpayer-funded county resources are appropriately managed and protected is important. We agree that organizations, such as Spencer Pride, should bear some of the costs associated with events they coordinate, regardless of the significant financial revenue brought into the community by these events. We want to ensure that all organizations have equal access to county resources and that county resources are made available to all organizations which use it respectfully and follow reasonable efforts to apply for its use.

Food vendors fill the parking lot of the Owen County Courthouse during the 2019 Spencer Pride Festival

There are two ordinances currently in effect that have been adopted by Owen County Commissioners. The Commissioners have admitted during recent public meetings, that the County has not been ensuring compliance to these existing ordinances, imposing existing fees, or assessing damages to county property that may have been caused during one or more special events. While focusing on effective and efficient compliance to current ordinances would have been more fiscally prudent, Owen County Commissioners have taken a more costly and time-consuming path, resulting in the proposal of an extensive new ordinance. This new ordinance tests the limits of the county’s authority and sets up a circumstance ripe for litigation.

The draft special events ordinance as proposed by Owen County Commissioners during the October 21st meeting is greatly flawed. We encourage Owen County Commissioners to reevaluate and improve several areas of the ordinance to ensure clarity of expectations and the implementation of a fair process for utilization of county resources. 

Our concerns can be grouped into the following themes:

  1. Unnecessarily vague requirements that could be used capriciously and invite litigation, which will cost tax-payers far more than the funds brought in by the new ordinance.
  2. Excessive costs as compared to similar ordinances in communities throughout the Midwest, including other Indiana towns and cities.
  3. Highly restrictive limitations on the utilization of county property which create unreasonable financial and personnel burdens for organizations that host special events for the community.
  4. Compliance with requirements in one area of the proposed ordinance creates a direct conflict with the ability to comply with other areas of the same document.

If enacted as written, this ordinance would impact the Spencer Pride Festival in the following ways:

  • decreasing services/activities offered
  • burdening local businesses with increased participation costs to offset extensive new fees
  • constraining accessibility to some aspects of the festival by those with physical limitations
  • creating new safety concerns
The 2019 Spencer Pride Festival welcomed more than 4,500 people to the Owen County Courthouse, including countless families who chose to spend their day among friends.

All other special events in downtown Spencer would also be impacted, some more significantly than others. Special events are an important lifeblood for our downtown community.  Our Commissioners should work to ensure that these events are supported and cultivated.

Given that neither current rules nor fees have been appropriately managed, many people have questioned why the Commissioners have approached resolution of their concerns by creating more complicated restrictions and establishing higher fees. In addition, County Commissioners have demonstrated both a lack of transparency and willingness to deceive taxpayers regarding their motivation behind these efforts. Based on feedback provided by County Officials and our experience with some of the Commissioners, we believe that these efforts have been undertaken to undermine the success of the Spencer Pride Festival, which celebrated its 13th annual festival this past June with more than 4,500 people in attendance.

The Spencer Pride Festival has always been a family-friendly event, rooted deeply within Owen County. For 12 of the past 13 years the event has taken place on the grounds of the Owen County Courthouse, where it has brought thousands of people from within and outside of our community. Some of the largest employers in Owen County have booths at our festival and see the value it brings to the community.  In 13 years, there have been zero arrests for lewd behavior during our festival and no citations have been issued to Spencer Pride for violations of county or town ordinances. While Spencer Pride has always provided evidence of the county-required liability insurance, we have never been accused by the county or town of causing damage to county facilities and therefore never needed to make a claim on our insurance. This is due to the responsible behavior of our volunteers, vendors, and event participants.

The Spencer Pride Festival has helped drive awareness to our wonderful community. It has also improved the reputation of our county, which unfortunately has suffered an abundance of negative press over the years, mostly related to corrupt government officials. We believe that our event has been a success because of the need for places that allow authentic self-expression. We also believe that we have been successful due to our particular approach within our community. Rather than drive change through protest and litigation, we start with engagement and education. We treat people with respect and follow the “golden rule.”

We respectfully request that Owen County Commissioners work with Spencer Pride, other local organizations, and businesses to craft a more practical ordinance that achieves all of the righteous goals outlined in the draft ordinance’s introduction. We ask that the Commissioners reevaluate their motivations for undertaking these efforts and ensure that they are acting as responsible agents without ideological bias for the citizens of our community. The community has clearly shown its support for downtown events like the Spencer Pride Festival, and we sincerely hope that the Commissioners can rise to meet the expectations of the citizens who elected them.

Respectfully submitted,

 

 

Jonathan A. Balash

President

Spencer Pride, Inc.

Open Letter to Owen County Commissioners

 

ORGANIZATIONAL CONTACTS

Janet Rummel, Marketing Director & SDEC Liaison:  Janet@SpencerPride.org, 765-481-8798

Jonathan Balash, President & Festival Director: Jonathan@SpencerPride.org, 812-821-3073

Spencer Pride Board Expresses Thoughts on Legislation Impacting LGBTQ+ Hoosiers

The following statement was issued from the Spencer Pride Board of Directors regarding two pieces of legislation currently being considered by the Indiana General Assembly:

The Spencer Pride Board of Directors strongly supports the passage of a comprehensive hate crimes law in Indiana.  This bill would allow for imposing stronger penalties upon conviction of bias-related crimes against people on the basis of another individual’s actual or perceived age, ancestry, color, creed, disability, ethnicity, familial status, gender identity, military service, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.  Indiana is among only 5 states without such legislation.

 

The lack of a hate crimes law in Indiana has had a negative impact on economic development initiatives and has given Indiana the reputation of not being a welcoming state.  This contradicts Spencer Pride’s mission of making Indiana a more welcoming place for ALL people.

Support for hate crimes legislation is bipartisan.  Hate crimes legislation is supported by Governor Eric Holcomb.  We, as directors of Spencer Pride, encourage all state legislators to vote yes on House Bill 1203 (Bias Motivated Crimes).

The Spencer Pride Board of Directors does not support House Bill 1525 (Biological Sexual Identity), which further exacerbates bias and hate.  In addition to creating a poor environment for our youth, this bill would add burdens to our state schools, including new infrastructure requirements & difficult-to-enforce monitoring requirements.

The Spencer Pride Board of Directors urges legislators to vote NO on House Bill 1525.

Tell Your Elected Officials to Support LGBT Equality! (My Voice, by Kim Fidler)

During his State of the State address, Governor Mike Pence, stated that he would prioritize religious freedom over civil rights protections for LGBT citizens of Indiana. While he also stated that nobody should be mistreated because of “who they love or what they believe”, he made it very clear that he would not support any bill that diminishes the religious freedom of Hoosiers or that interferes with the constitutional rights of citizens.

One need only think about the terrible effects of the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to realize that a “fix” is definitely necessary. Last year, following the passage of RFRA, there was a $250 million loss of revenue for Indiana. It appears that we are doomed to a repeat performance. There will, undoubtedly, be more fallout, more boycotts, and more loss of revenue in Indiana due to discrimination against the gay, lesbian, & transgender community. Business owners are already expressing disappointment that Governor Pence is not taking the opportunity to correct the error that he made by signing RFRA into law.

There are several bills proposed that would prohibit LGBT discrimination. However, we know the stance of our Governor. We need to continue to ask legislators to push for adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s civil rights law.

Please ask legislators to vote “NO” on Senate Bill 35, the Transgender Bathroom Access bill, sponsored by Jim Tomes. This bill would make it a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of as much as $5,000, for a transgender person to enter a public bathroom that does not conform to their gender at birth. How would this be monitored? Would citizens be responsible for filing a complaint? Would employees of businesses be responsible for filing a complaint? This bill would also prohibit schools from ever allowing transgender students from using restrooms that match their gender identity. Students would only be identified by the sex assigned to them at birth. That sex would determine which restroom they may use. This would force school corporations to violate Title IX and discriminate against transgender students on the basis of their gender identity. The Indiana Department of Education has repeatedly found that schools cannot refuse access to transgender students on the basis of their gender identity. This bill is totally ludicrous.

Some of the protections proposed for members of the LGBT community would be in the areas of employment, housing, services, and more. The bill most likely to provide civil rights protections for LGBT community members is Senate Bill 2. It is a bill from Senator Timothy Lanane. The bill amends civil rights enforcement statutes to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, veteran status, and ancestry.

I would like to mention that the likely gubernatorial challenger, John Gregg, stated that Governor Pence’s refusal to support extending state civil rights protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity is “unconscionable”.

RFRA continues to damage Indiana’s economy and reputation. Please be sure to contact your legislators to ask them to vote for Senate Bill 2, without exemptions. The bill is coming to be known as “Four Words and a Comma”. “Gender Identity, sexual orientation” would be the four words added to Indiana’s anti-discrimination law. This bill is preferred by LGBT rights supporters, including much of the business community, because it does not offer religious exemptions. Original civil rights acts do not contain exemptions. Other states do not have exemptions in their civil rights acts. Everyone is entitled to civil rights. This bill would be effective upon passage.

MY VOICE: Happy 4th of July! (by Kim Fidler)

4th-of-july-american-independence-day-flyer_GkgD2dwuJuly is a month of patriotism. It is ironic that on July 1st, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act took  effect in Indiana. While we have come so far with the SCOTUS decision to legalize gay marriage, it is definitely a step in the wrong direction to have RFRA in Indiana.  In July, we celebrate essential democratic anniversaries — the birth of the United States on July 4, 1776 and the birth of the Women’s Rights Movement on July 19-20, 1848.

On July 19-20, 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott spearheaded the first women’s rights convention in American History.  Over 300 women and men came to Seneca Falls, New York to protest the mistreatment of women in social, economic, political, and religious life.  This marked the first public meeting calling for women’s right to vote.

It is so difficult for me to believe that some people do not even exercise their right to vote these days.

I vote and ask others to do so. The damage to Indiana via this law will last for years. This law is a response to the failed attempt to place a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Nevermind that gay marriage challenges have cost Indiana $1.4 million in attorney fees or that nearly $2 million has been spent to “repair” the image of Indiana. All of this, of course, was at the expense of the tax-payers.

I personally do not favor boycotts of Indiana businesses, as I see the now famous round, blue stickers in many businesses that demonstrate that “we serve everyone”. I hope that tourists and businesses continue to visit Indiana and to do business with those businesses that do serve everyone proudly. We, as citizens, must take a positive and active role to ensure that Indiana does not suffer by continuing to emphasize the positive.

I am proud to actively and positively remain a volunteer for Spencer Pride and to serve on the Spencer Pride Board of Directors. I continue to try to politely address the remarks of people who do not know the law or the issues on social media. I fear that such comments will continue to make the citizens of Indiana look uneducated and just a bit “redneck”. It is not difficult to make a positive effect. This starts with talking to our children about this law. If you do not have the stomach to speak publicly or to visit legislators at the statehouse, it is fine. There are many other ways to demonstrate that Indiana is still a very welcoming state to everyone.

I try to respect the opinions of others. However, this was a Supreme Court ruling. How can people blame President Obama? It is my hope that the citizens of Indiana will rise above this terrible RFRA law in an active and positive manner. It is my hope that the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality will help us move forward in Indiana.

We must begin at the polls. When we fail to vote, we fail to make changes. The positive side to all of this is that RFRA has angered many. It has caused many to realize that we have a human rights issue with RFRA. It has caused awareness and conversation, that has resulted in approval, acceptance, or in the very least tolerance of those who are different from some of us. It takes all kinds of people to make the world an interesting place. Please vote. Please ask others to vote.

Please keep the aforementioned dates in mind and in your heart. Please do not allow the brave acts of others to have been done for nothing. Please also take the time to thank those who have and who currently serve in the military to ensure that we continue to have freedom in the United States of America!

Happy 4th of July!!

This post comes straight to you from Kim Fidler.  Kim has been a member of the Spencer Pride Inc. Board of Directors since 2013. This post is part of a series entitled “Voices of Spencer Pride” where we share perspectives from our volunteers about topics that they find important. We hope that you find this post meaningful to you and if you think someone else would also find value in it, we encourage you to share it with them as well. THANK YOU!

Governor Pence Issues Letter to Spencer Pride; Organization Responds

Governor Pence's Letter to 2015 Spencer Pride Festival AttendeesOn Thursday, amidst much social media buzz around Indiana Governor Pence’s letter to Indy Pride, Spencer Pride also received a similar letter from the Governor.

In the letter, the Governor began with “on behalf of the people of Indiana, it is a pleasure to welcome you to Owen County.” He went on to describe the beautiful features of our county, including McCormick’s Creek State Park, Cataract Falls, and the Tivoli Theatre.

Calling Spencer a ‘charming rural community,’ Governor Pence then summarized his letter by sharing his confidence that attendees “will come to know a vibrant town and our famous Hoosier Hospitality.”

“While we are honored and grateful that Governor Pence took time to issue a letter of welcome to Spencer Pride, we would have appreciated if the Governor had taken a few extra moments to mention LGBT people, equality, or the actual festival itself in the body of the letter,” said Spencer Pride Inc. president Jonathan Balash.

“It’s like welcoming people to a county fair without mentioning agriculture or the fair itself.”

“Given the passage of RFRA and the corresponding ‘fix’ that garnered tremendous national attention on Indiana this year, Hoosier are looking for better leadership when it comes to issues of equality for all people. It would have been nice for Governor Pence to acknowledge these important issues, even if he disagrees with how to approach them,” Balash concluded.

Governor Pence was invited to attend the 2015 Spencer Pride Festival but we received notice this week that the Governor is unable to do so. Perhaps for our 10th anniversary festival scheduled in June of 2016 we can work to secure his presence at our event.

The letter from Governor Pence follows other letters received by Spencer Pride Inc. from elected officials, including letters from United States Senator Joe Donnelly (Indiana) and the minority leaders of the Indiana General Assembly, Scott Pelath (House Democratic Leader) & Timothy Lanane (Senate Democratic Leader). Unlike the Governor’s letter, the other messages included strong words of support for the work of Spencer Pride Inc. and for the overall goals of equality for LGBT People.

The 2015 Spencer Pride Festival takes place on Saturday June 6 from 10 AM until 5 PM in downtown Spencer on the Owen County Courthouse square.  The festival is 100% family-friendly and admission-free.  Parking is also free.  The festival features a huge marketplace with more than 85 vendors, all-day live entertainment, a lot of activities for the whole family, and much more!

Minority Leaders from Indiana General Assembly Issue Statement of Support for Spencer Pride

IGAToday, we received a letter from the minority leaders of the Indiana General Assembly – Scott Pelath, House Democratic Leader & Timothy Lanane, Senate Democratic Leader – expressing support for Spencer Pride and welcoming attendees to our festival.

The letter unequivocally states support for the work of Spencer Pride and acknowledges our hard work for the past 9 years.

“We are unbelievably honored to have received this letter of support from the minority leaders of the Indiana state legislature,” said Spencer Pride Inc. Jonathan A. Balash.  “It means a lot to our volunteers and supports to get this time of recognition from some of the most important elected officials in the state.”

The letter will be read aloud by Jonathan to attendees at this year’s Spencer Pride Festival, which takes place on Saturday June 6 from 10 AM until 5 PM on the square in downtown Spencer.

MY VOICE: Engaging with our Elected Officials (by Jonathan Balash)

IMG_2313The breakfast was held on Saturday, April 18 at the Owen Valley Christian Fellowship on Highway 43 in Spencer.   Almost 40 people were in attendance, which was the largest turnout for one of the breakfasts this legislative session.   In attendance was Indiana State Representative Jim Baird (district 44), Representative Bob Heaton (district 46), and Senatory Eric Bassler (district 39).

I attended the breakfast (and the ones before it) because I care about our state and I firmly believe that it’s important to engage with our elected officials.  Part of that engagement is holding them accountable at the ballot box and in person for their actions.  Attending the breakfast is an opportunity to ask them face-to-face about what they’ve done and to expect them to explain or justify their behaviors.  I had asked questions about the so called Religion Freedom Restoration Act in the prior two breakfasts this year which had been held in January and February.  At the time I was told by the legislators that the RFRA would make a positive impact on Indiana.  They justified their supportive positions using out-of-state examples that couldn’t be related to solving Indiana’s problems or addressing Hoosier issues.

Given that the passage of RFRA caused national outrage and resulted in a tremendous amount of negative press about the Hoosier state, I wanted to ask the officials if they still felt that their votes for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act were still the right ones.

In addition to the impact on our state’s reputation (and therefore our economy), this bill created a climate among Hoosiers that felt repressive and backward-leaning.  Fixing the bill was important to help restore our reputation and to show Hoosiers that Indiana is not a place where discrimination is enshrined in our law.

HHP-5
Jonathan currently serves as the President of Spencer Pride, Inc. and was a founding member of the organization.

Typically the breakfasts begin with quick introductions and then lead into questions.  Normally the breakfasts last 90 minutes.  For this breakfast, however, we were informed at the beginning that they’d like to cut the breakfast to only 60 minutes since the legislators had other public events to attend later in the morning.  Then they began with introductions and talked about things they’d been working on.  After consuming 35 of the 60 minutes, they finally asked for the first question from the audience.

I was really happy that my question about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was the first question of the session.  I was hoping it would help set the tone for questions to come and I think that it did that.

I asked why, if they thought that the original legislation was going to help Indiana, why each of them also voted for the ‘fix’ legislation that amended the law to show protection for LGBT Hoosiers.  The legislators all re-affirmed that their original support for the RFRA was based not in ill-intent but with the intent to further defend religious freedoms guaranteed by the Indiana State Consitution.

Senator Bassler was the first to respond.  After apologizing that Senator Bray couldn’t attend, he said that he voted to fix the bill for a couple of reasons.  First “it was giving a black eye to Hoosiers.”  Second, the Senator wanted to make it clear that his support of the original bill wasn’t about an intent to discriminate against one person or another.  His vote of the fix was intended to show that and to make sure that the bill wouldn’t be used to discriminate in this way.

Representative Heaton agreed that the bill wasn’t intended to discriminate, but he spent some time quoting from the Wall Street Journal editorial page where someone had written in and voiced their support of the original RFRA.

Here are just a few of the Spencer Pride Inc. volunteers who attended the April Legislative Breakfast.
Here are just a few of the Spencer Pride Inc. volunteers who attended the April Legislative Breakfast.

He had obviously been prepared for questions about the RFRA because he had several items available to refer to.  In past breakfasts, he had not been so prepared.  The presence of those documents further led me to believe that his lengthy introduction earlier had been a stalling tactic.  He underestimated by determination.

Representative Baird said that he had nothing to add, other than to say that the original bill “was perceived to be a problem that needed to be fixed,” so “we fixed it.”  Not exactly supportive of the LGBT community in his defensive response, but at least he had to sit in front of his constituents and defend his actions.

My husband Jacob, who was also in attendance, later followed up by asking them if they still would have voted for the original bill without the fix.  Essentially, he wanted to know, did they have any regrets?

Representative Baird had nothing to say.

Representative Heaton said “I would have voted for it again.”  At least he was consistent with his lackluster support for pro-equality measures.  He also mentioned that he wouldn’t support the addition of sexual orientation as a protective class in Indiana.  “Where do we stop?” he asked, “There are a lot of groups out there.”

Senator Bassler was very frank: “I would do things differently if I had to do it over again, if I’m being honest.”  He then made some specific recommendations for how it could have been done differently.  He is very open-minded to hearing from pro-equality consistuents.  I continued the conversation with Senator Bassler after the breakfast was over.

When I think about how others can best be involved in important poltiical issues, a few things come to mind.  First and foremost, VOTE.  Regardless of how you make your decision about who to vote for, voting is the single-most influential way that we have to make change among our elected officials.  Second, it’s essential that we engage with our elected officials to tell them what’s important to us.  Third, we must hold them accountable through our interactions with them.  It’s a lot easier to make bad decisions when no one will ask you about those decisions; it’s an altogether more difficult situation when people force their elected officials to answer for those decisions.

Spencer Pride Inc. aims to keep people informed about LGBTQI topics of significant importance to our community, so please ‘like’ the Spencer Pride Inc. Facebook page and visit our website frequently for more information on how you can be involved.

This post comes straight to you from Jonathan Balash.  Jonathan, his husband Jacob, & his son Truman live in Owen County with their three basset hounds. This post is part of a new series entitled “Voices of Spencer Pride” where we share perspectives from our volunteers about topics that they find important. We hope that you find this post meaningful to you and if you think someone else would also find value in it, we encourage you to share it with them as well. THANK YOU!

Legislative Breakfast on Saturday, April 18

FOAF

On Saturday, April 18, Owen County will have its last legislative breakfast of the 2015 legislative session.  Although it was originally believed that the final breakfast would be in March, the Owen County Chamber of Commerce added an additional event in April due to the cancelation of the February date caused by winter weather.  This addition was much needed given the activities of the Indiana Legislature this year.

The breakfast will be held from 7:30 – 9:30 a.m. at the Owen Valley Christian Fellowship – 338 State Highway 43 in Spencer.

These breakfasts are an important opportunity to speak to and hear from our local legislators.

We encourage you to attend the breakfast, especially in light of the discriminatory law entitled “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that was passed a few weeks back and then slightly modified in order to quell the tremendously negative response that it received from the public & from national business leaders.  The Spencer Pride Inc. board of directors released a statement about the law expressing our own disagreement and outrage over its passage.

It is anticipated that several volunteers will be attending the breakfast this week.  We know that at least some will be asking about the RFRA, especially given that when we asked last month we were told by the elected officials present how beneficial the law would be for Indiana.  That is in stark contrast to the estimated tens of millions of dollars the bill will have cost the state’s tourism industry and overall economy. Attempting to quantify the impact to Indiana’s reputation would be futile at this point, although most believe it will take many, many years to un-do the damage.
We hope that you will be able to attend to interact with your elected officials and to show support for Spencer Pride, Inc.
Donuts and drinks will be provided by this month’s sponsor.

To read the full statement released from Spencer Pride, Inc. regarding the RFRA, visit our prior web post.

Kim’s Corner: April Fools

It is more than just a small coincidence that April 1st is April Fool’s Day and that have chosen to cover the topic of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This act was signed by current Governor, Mike Pence, on Thursday, March 26, 2015, in spite of intense pressure from opponents who fear discrimination against gays and lesbians will result.

Governor Pence and leaders of the republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly say that the bill is not about discrimination. It takes effect on July 1st, 2015. The signing of the law was closed to the public and the press.

Indiana is the 20th state to adopt such legislation. This bill follows the legalization of same-sex marriages in Indiana and other states. The act is the result of Senate Bill 101. The signing by Pence was attended by 70-80 special guests by invitation only. So many calls came into the governor’s office that the phone system was temporarily down.

I was able to attend a legislative event in Vincennes, Indiana. Legislators who were present were asked to comment on the economic effects that this bill could have in Indiana. It was interesting that those legislators answered that there would be absolutely NO financial impact on Indiana due to the passage of the bill.

Companies are already announcing that they will no longer send employees or customers to Indiana to face possible discrimination. The NCAA has expressed concern over the upcoming men’s basketball tournament in Indianapolis. In addition, Gen Con threatened to take its convention to another state when its contract with Indiana ends in 2020. That would be a loss of revenue from approximately 56,000 attendees. Governor Pence continues to assert that the bill is not about legalizing discrimination.

Democrats in the General Assembly attempted to make amendments to the bill to protect people from discrimination for sexual orientation. Republican legislators refused to do so.

I wish to thank Senate Minority Leader, Tim Lanane, for speaking out against the governor and republicans for supporting the bill without amendments.  Lanane stated that the bill portrays Indiana as intolerant, unfriendly, and backwards.

A number of companies, organizations, athletes, and famous individuals have expressed opposition to Pence’s signing of the RFRA. Some of them include Charles Barkley, Pacer Reggie Miller, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Talk-show host Larry King, Hillary Clinton, Miley Cyrus, Ashton Kutcher, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, St. Elmo’s Steakhouse, Scotty’s Brewhouse, George Takei, and more. “No hate in our state” and “Fix the bill” were chants heard from thousands in the statehouse in protest of the law. Many local small businesses are posting photos of “We serve everyone” stickers.

19 states have “religious freedom” laws similar to Indiana’s as does the federal government, but there are distincitions that set Indiana’s apart.  For example, Indiana’s bill does apply to conflicts between private citizens.  Also, Indiana does not have sexual orientation or gender identity as a protected class at the state level.  Both of these differences make the big much more dangerous in Indiana.

Senator Scott Schneider and State Representative Jud McMillin co-authored the terrible bill in Indiana. The house passed the bill on Monday, March 23, 2015, with a vote of 63-31 and the Senate on Tuesday, March 24, with a vote of 40-10.

San Francisco Mayor, Ed Lee, banned public-funded travel to Indiana after the bill was signed, stating that San Francisco taxpayers will not subsidize legally-sanctioned discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people by the state of Indiana.

It is my hope that opponents from Indiana and other states will not stop fighting this discriminatory bill. Remember in November. As my dad always said, “Vote the bums out!” Our actions at the ballot box will accomplish more than our words or our rallies. These methods are useful and effective. However, we must vote for new people to represent our best interests.

Happy April. We are officially being led by fools in Indiana.

Update: The City County Council of Indianapolis-Marion County, has issued Proposal No. 120, 2015. This proposal is in opposition to the Indiana General Assembly’s passage of SEA 101, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and encourages State Legislators to amend the Civil Rights section of the Indiana Code and to uphold and protect local anti-discrimination ordinances by exempting them from SEA 101. This amendment would include sexual orientation and gender identity, and to specifically exempt all civil rights laws, including but not limited to locally enacted Human Rights Ordinances, from SEA 101. SEA 101 will make protecting victims of domestic violence, as well as defending the rights of gay and transgender community members more difficult.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of Kim Fidler and do not necessarily represent those of all Spencer Pride Inc. volunteers.  Kim is a member of the Spencer Pride Inc. Board of Directors and we are proud to have her express her views on this important topic.  Check out Kim’s Corner every month for more from her.  

Spencer Pride Inc. Statement on the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”

The Spencer Pride, Inc. Board of Directors is firmly opposed to the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that was signed into law this week by Indiana Governor Mike Pence.

We believe that this law provides a license to businesses throughout the state to discriminate against many groups, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, & intersex communities.  We believe that this law is not right for Indiana, does not accurately represent true Hoosier Hospitality, & simply exists as a response to recent momentum in marriage equality.

We applaud the many for-profit and not-for-profit companies & organizations, as well as the countless citizens and elected officials who have come forth to share similar perspectives and beliefs.

We are rooted in Spencer, Indiana and most of our volunteers are native or life-long Hoosiers.  Indiana is home for us and we hope that this new law (scheduled to take effect in July of this year) will not negatively impact the state due to the potential pull-out of various businesses, conferences, and other elements which impact our economy.

We encourage the Indiana State Legislature to repeal this law.

Last Legislative Breakfast on Saturday, March 21

This Saturday, March 21 is the last Legislative Breakfast in Owen County. The breakfast will be held at 7:30 a.m. at Owen Valley Christian Fellowship – 338 State Highway 43 in Spencer.

These breakfasts are an important opportunity to speak to and hear from our local legislators. We encourage you to attend the breakfast, especially in light of the discriminatory legislation that was just passed out of committee on Monday.

The Owen County Chamber of Commerce coordinates 2-3 legislative breakfasts per year. The first breakfast, held in January, was sponsored by Spencer Pride, Inc.   Many Pride volunteers were present at the January breakfast, including half of the board of directors.
The second breakfast, planned for February, was cancelled due to winter weather.
It is anticipated that several volunteers will be attending the final breakfast this week. Having public support for Spencer Pride Inc., and in opposition to the religious-based discrimination legislation, is very important to us. We hope that you will be able to attend.
Donuts and drinks will be provided by this month’s sponsor.

 

We look forward to seeing you there!

Kim’s Corner: Springing into Action

Kim Fidler, Spencer Pride Inc. Director
Kim Fidler, Spencer Pride Inc. Director

March marks the beginning of spring. I love the spring. It is a time of renewal and hope. It means the end of an often harsh winter and an even more harsh legislative session. Spring is legislative season. This year we have a long legislative session. I cannot help but think that means that legislators have more time to pass damaging bills. When I think of March and spring, I take comfort in my memories of when I was a child and my grandpa raised cows in the pasture across from the house where I was raised. It was wonderful to see him every day when he would come to feed the cows. The other wonderful thing about the pasture across the road is that behind it was a creek and a watering hole where my siblings and I could go to swim. I often dream of that creek and watering hole. I dream that I am floating along the stream on a leaf. It is both exciting and terrifying. I have no control over where the leaf takes me. At times, it travels over calm waters. Other times, it carries me over rocks and strong currents.

In my dreams, along the way, I see many people. Some are friendly and those I love, while others are not. Sometimes, I am safely riding on the leaf down the creek and suddenly hit rough waters where I can barely hold on to the leaf. This is life!

In my dream, I never reach my final destination, which is fine. I really do not want to know my final destination at this point. I have visited several psychics in my life. They have all been frighteningly accurate in their predictions, both good and bad. However, I have never wanted to know how or when my life will end. We will just wait for that information!

As I have said, spring is a time of renewal and hope. The winter has been more mild than expected. However, I am always happy to see the spring arrive. I have been asked to register as a lobbyist to try to combat a number of negative bills against public education. I also continue to speak to legislators to support the goals of my friends in Spencer Pride and those of the LGBTQ community. Nothing worthwhile is easy. We must be prepared to fight for what is right. For example, there is a new Religious Freedom Restoration Act that has been proposed in Indiana as Senate Bill 568 and House Bill 1632. What is this you ask? Well, for those who support the bills, they say their strong religious beliefs will be protected. For those who oppose the bill, they say it will legalize discrimination. The legislation is the result of a federal judge ending the ban on same-sex marriage in Indiana last June. The author of the bill is Senator Scott Schneider, a Republican from Indianapolis. The focus is on same-sex marriage.

The bill would allow small businesses — such as bakeries, caterers, florists, and wedding chapels (wedding planning businesses) — to refuse services to gay couples based on the owner’s religious beliefs. It would also allow adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples. Senator Schneider says that nobody will be discriminated against due to this bill. He claims that the bill is to protect freedom and religious liberty. The bill would allow a person exercising his or her religion to use the law in court as a defense.

The bill is modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, which was passed under President Bill Clinton to protect religious minorities. It greatly affected the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case in June. Supreme Court Justices ruled that Hobby Lobby and other corporations can hold religious objections that allowed them to opt out of an Affordable Care Act requirement that they cover contraceptives for women. At least 19 states have passed some form of the law, and proposals have recently been introduced in several additional states, including Michigan and Georgia.

State Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said the Indiana bill will create a problem where there isn’t one and will just distract legislators from focusing on important topics, such as schools and wages. “We are not being prevented from exercising our faith, nor are we being forced to do something we don’t want to do,” he said. “It’s kind of sad, really.”

Schneider’s bill is likely to get serious consideration in the new General Assembly, which is now more conservative than ever before. Republicans increased the size of their super-majorities in the House and the Senate in Indiana during the November general election. Please do not hesitate to contact legislators to oppose this discriminating bill!

Currently, I am sure that many of us feel as though we are traveling down a wild and winding creek on a leaf, hanging on for dear life without brakes or a steering wheel. When things get crazy, we have to hold on to and rely upon those we love and trust. That is the only thing that will see us through the wild times. Most important is to remember that eventually, we will make it back to calm waters.

HAPPY SPRING!!

Second Legislative Breakfast on Saturday, February 21

Spencer Pride Inc. Director Kim Fidler asks a question of Senator Bassler.
Spencer Pride Inc. Director Kim Fidler asks a question of Senator Bassler.

UPDATE: THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED DUE TO WINTER WEATHER.  THE NEXT LEGISLATIVE BREAKFAST WILL TAKE PLACE ON SATURDAY, MARCH 21st AT 7:30 AM.  

____________________________________________

 

This Saturday, February, the 21st, the second legislative breakfast of this year will be held in Owen County.  This event begins at 7:30 a.m. and is held at Owen Valley Christian Fellowship – 338 State Highway 43 in Spencer.

The legislative breakfast is a great opportunity to hear from your elected state legislators and to ask them questions about issues that are important to you.  The Owen County Chamber of Commerce coordinates 2-3 legislative breakfasts per year.  The first breakfast, held last month, was sponsored by Spencer Pride, Inc.
We encourage you to attend the breakfast, especially in light of the religious discrimination bill being introduced (SB 101).   Spencer Pride president Jonathan Balash asked Senator Bassler about the bill during the January breakfast, but the new senator was not yet familiar with the language and committed to following up with Jonathan.  Jonathan sent an e-mail to the Senator this week to reiterate his opposition to the bill and received a cordial “I’ll consider your feedback when reviewing the legislation” response.
Jonathan was not alone in representing Spencer Pride Inc. at the January breakfast.  Several other Pride volunteers were present, including half of the board of directors.   It is anticipated that several volunteers will be attending the second breakfast tomorrow.  Having public support for Spencer Pride Inc., and in opposition to the religious-based discrimination legislation, is very important to us.  We hope that you will be able to attend.
Donuts and drinks will be provided by this month’s sponsor.
See you in the morning!
Eric Jones (a member of our Board of Directors) attended the breakfast with his family (wife Larissa & son Levi)
Eric Jones (a member of our Board of Directors) attended the breakfast with his family (wife Larissa & son Levi)

Kim’s Corner: Ramifications of Same-Sex Marriage

“All Kinds of Kinds” – Miranda Lambert

Thomas was a congressman with closets full of skeletons
And dresses that he wore on Friday nights…

Now some point a finger and let ignorance linger
If they’d look in the mirror they’d find.
That ever since the beginning to keep the world spinning
It takes all kinds of kinds.
All kinds of kinds.
All kinds of kinds.

Happy November! November is a month to give thanks for the things that we have and the blessings in our lives. As we enter the holiday season, I always hope that people are thinking of others. The words from the song above make me very happy. This song is one of more than just tolerance. It is one of acceptance. In spite of differences, we are all important and keep the world spinning. I am proud to have been named the volunteer of the year for Spencer Pride, Inc. I continue to meet people who desire acceptance of others.

Due to the fact that I am divorced, and volunteer for Spencer Pride events, I have had people question my sexuality. I am 100% straight. I smile when people ask. I say that volunteering for homeless people does not make me homeless. Volunteering my time for public education friendly political candidates does not make me a politician. These are things that I like doing to help others. We do not always to these things due to our own personal needs. Selfishly, I continue to work with Spencer Pride because I have made such wonderful friends and would miss them terribly if I were to stop.

I have taken my involvement in Spencer Pride to a new level. I have been invited to participate in a conference in California this December to do a presentation on the effects of the legalization of gay marriage on domestic partner benefits. As everyone knows, gay marriage is now legal. The U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor overturned a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This has changed employee benefits for same-sex couples.

U.S. v. Windsor is a landmark case in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that restricting the U.S. federal interpretation of marriage and spouse. To apply only to opposite-sex unions is unconstitutional. Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer lived in New York, but were married in Canada in 2007. Thea died in 2009. She left her entire estate to Edith. Edith tried to claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses. She was not allowed to do so, due to Section 3 of DOMA, as the term spouse only applied to marriages between a man and a woman. The IRS made the decision that the exemption did not apply to same-sex marriages and denied Edith’s claim. She would have to pay $363,053 in estate taxes.

On November 9, 2010, Edith filed a lawsuit against the federal government seeking a refund because DOMA singled out legally married same-sex couples for differential treatment. On February 3, 2011, U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, announced that the Department of Justice would not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA. On June 6, 2012, Judge Barbara S. Jones ruled that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional under the due process guarantees of the Fifth Amendment and ordered the federal government to issue the tax refund, plus interest. On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision that declared Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional.

Section 3 of DOMA had limited the definition of marriage and spouse to opposite sex unions. It also made same-sex spouses eligible for the same employee benefits and privileges regarding federal laws and taxes as opposite-sex spouses. Many employers began offering domestic partner benefits because same-sex couples had no option to marry. Eventually, domestic partner benefits were also provided for many opposite-sex couples as well.

With the Windsor decision, many U.S. employers will be making changes to same-sex domestic partner benefits and are also altering benefits now provided to opposite-sex couples. According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 31% of workers in private industry had access to health care benefits for same-sex partners and 26% had access to plans that provide health care benefits to opposite-sex partners. While some companies are changing their domestic partner benefits following the Windsor ruling, Wal-Mart will provide benefits to same-sex or opposite-sex partners with whom the employee has been in an exclusive and on-going relationship for at least a year.

In August, 2013, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS ruled that same-sex couples who were legally married will be treated as married for federal tax purposes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In September, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a release stating that it will interpret the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act (ERISA), which governs most employer-provided retirement and health plans, to include same-sex and opposite-sex spouses regardless of the state in which they live. Marriage is now required. ERISA covers only spouses and will not be extended to domestic partners. Many companies across the United States will likely end their domestic partner benefits. When domestic partner programs are eliminated, the employer may provide a grace period of several months for the couple to marry.

There are still many questions about what benefits will be for same-sex couples. Until additional guidance and regulations are issued by the IRS and the DOL, employers may not make changes to domestic partner benefits. In summary, federal or state law is not concerned with holy matrimony. Government deal with marriage as a civil status. Edith Windsor state that when she and her partner met nearly 50 years earlier that they never dreamed that their marriage would be viewed by the Supreme Court as “an example of why gay married couples should be treated equally, and not like second-class citizens.”

The differentiation of same-sex and opposite-sex couples insults the same-sex couple AND humiliates tens of thousands of children being raised by those couples. Section 3 of DOMA makes it difficult for those children to understand the closeness of their own family in comparison to that of other families in their community.

All families matter…Happy Thanksgiving!