Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Middle Turns Right

Out in the middle, there are lot of time-honored traditions of neighbors helping neighbors, as Frankie Heck might say,  but there's also the tradition of neighbors sticking it to each other, as Indiana Governor Mike Pence - who's one of those nasty Republican trolls who used to infest the U.S. House of Representatives - just demonstrated.  The governor just signed a law in Indiana allowing people of deep religious faith to refuse services, employment, or anything else to others in order to adhere to the tenets of their religion, overriding state and local equal-protection laws.  For example, a Catholic restaurant owner could refuse to serve meat to Protestant customers on Fridays during Lent.
But that, of course, isn't the reason why the Indiana legislature passed it and why Governor Pence, despite his insistence to the contrary, signed it.  It specifically allows Christian conservatives in Indiana to discriminate against homosexual, transgender, and bisexual residents.
Needless to say, a lot of folks are upset with this law.  The parent company of the Gen Con hobby game convention is threatening to leave the state.  San Francisco mayor Edwin Lee has banned publicly funded city travel to Indiana (though it's hard to imagine what sort of official San Francisco travel would involve Indiana in the first place).  Meanwhile, Jeremy Stoppelman, the CEO of the San Francisco-based small-business search engine Yelp, said his company will not expand operations in Indiana, and Marc Benioff, the leader of another San Francisco-based firm, the cloud-computing company, said that his company would reduce its investments in the state. And there are other such examples I could cite, but I'll shift over to all the celebrities upset with this, such as the gay Asian-American icon George Takei, who blasted the law, and the marvelous Broadway singer/actress Audra McDonald, who pondered if the gay members of her backing band would have a problem finding accommodations if she played any cities in the Hoosier State.  (She didn't mention the possibility that she could be refused service by Christian fundamentalists opposed to interracial marriage because she's black and her husband is white, but I just did.)  And pop tart du jour Miley Cyrus, on Instagram, called Pence a rhymes-with-glass-pole.
Pence, an arch-conservative moron, did and said a lot of things that appalled me when he was in Washington, but he just did the most appalling thing I could imagine by signing this bill - he actually put me in agreement and in solidarity with Miley Cyrus!  
Needless to say, I think this law stinks, because it overrides basic protections and treats the LGBT (I hate using those initials, but I'm doing it here for the sake of brevity) crowd like second-class citizens in Indiana.  They've always been second-class citizens in the Hoosier State, of course, but this now makes it official.  People like to think of Indiana as the quintessential Middle American state of small towns, families and patriotism, the state where A Christmas Story was set, the home of John Mellencamp, and all that bit, but Indiana is also known for being virulently racist and homophobic, a place described just recently being a Southern state that happens to be in the North - and if your name is David Lee Roth or Sydney Pollack (both Jews from Indiana), watch out.  
Now Indiana is going to have to watch out.  Not only are businesses refusing to expand there or stay there, and not only are performing artists possibly going to boycott the state, but churches like the Disciples of Christ - the denomination of Lyndon Johnson, who pushed all that civil rights legislation through Congress - object to this "religious freedom" law.  And even though "Indiana" and "tourism" aren't usually mentioned in the same sentence, the state does have enclaves like Brown County, known for its vibrant arts community, in the southwestern part of the state, as well as Abraham Lincoln's boyhood home near the Ohio River.  Of course, there's also Indianapolis, which has built up its cultural attractions over the years.  Indeed, it's not just about the Indianapolis 500 anymore - and, given its greater cultural and ethnic diversity, Indianapolis is not the Elmer Gantry-type city that Paul Fussell visited when he went to the Indy 500 race out of intellectual curiosity (and found himself enjoying).  So tourism, especially in Indianapolis, would take a hit from more boycotts.  That would certainly explain why the the current mayor of Indianapolis - Greg Ballard, a Republican - also objects to this law.  As for the Indy 500, I'm expecting a lot of empty seats in the stands for the race this Memorial Day weekend. 
But, that's the price you pay for taking your state back to the eighteenth century (and Indiana didn't even exist then; it was created as a U.S. territory in 1800, becoming a state in 1816).  No one in Indiana is going to come out a winner as a result of this new "religious freedom" law.  And as all-time losers, the fictional Hecks, living in the fictional Indiana town of Orson, are about to have plenty of real-life company.      

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