LGBT rights not on radar

HANCOCK COUNTY — Local laws aimed at protecting the rights of LGBT individuals aren’t on the horizon for any communities in Hancock County, despite growing support for the cause across the state.

Although Indiana lawmakers didn’t enact any measures establishing civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals during the legislative session, some jurisdictions have opted to address the issue themselves. Recently, elected officials in Kokomo voted to join Indianapolis, Bloomington, Evansville and several other Indiana cities by enacting a civil rights ordinance that affords LGBT individuals the same rights as other residents.

But in Hancock County, the issue hasn’t come up in public meetings; local representatives say they have no plans to introduce measures pertaining to the cause because they haven’t received requests from residents seeking civil rights protections.

Gary McDaniel, president of the Greenfield City Council, said he thinks enacting local rules to protect LGBT individuals would be superfluous.

“I’ve never heard anyone say that they felt they’ve been discriminated against in this town,” McDaniel said.

Fortville Town Council President Bill Hiday echoed that sentiment but said it could be a topic for the community to consider in the future.

“When you’re in an elected position, you have to have an open mind,” Hiday said. “If that’s an item our constituents want to see addressed, then we’ve got to do that work.”

The push for such measures comes in the wake of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 2015 law proposed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to allow businesses and organizations who oppose gay rights for religious reasons to withhold services, such as catering for same-sex weddings.

The law, which was eventually revised, prompted a national uproar that included calls for large companies to boycott the state.

Larry Longman, president of the McCordsville Town Council, said he looks to the statehouse for guidance on such matters. But without a decision from legislators this year, the topic likely won’t come up locally unless residents ask for change, he said.

Even if state lawmakers seek to revive efforts to extend LGBT civil rights next year, prominent social conservatives say gay rights supporters will again face opposition.

“We will be responding to all the same arguments — which we consider to be spurious — regarding special rights that violate people’s religious liberty,” said the Rev. Kevin Baird of the Indiana Pastors Alliance, adding that the group is already strategizing for next year’s session. “We just believe that it’s a not only personal violation of our faith but a wrong turn for our culture and society at-large.”

But Peter Hanscom, a spokesman for Indiana Competes, a coalition of several hundred Indiana businesses lobbying for LGBT protections, said the cause is gaining support.

“The momentum is on our side. Public perception is on our side,” Hanscom said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.