“…as LGBTQ people, you know what it’s like to be marginalized, you know what it’s like to be isolated. That’s where we find common ground and that’s where we start to build from there…we’re in a great position to where we can teach the majority community what it’s like to lead by example.”
June is Pride month, a worldwide celebration of the LGBTQ community. Indianapolis will host its own Indy Pride Festival with an estimated 100,000 people in attendance. But LGBTQ people still face struggles against homophobia and discrimination as well as issues that divide the diverse community.
In this month’s episode of For Good, two CICF ambassadors, Myranda Warden and Elle Roberts, and members of the LGBTQ community share their insights. Kit Malone from ACLU, Chris Handberg from Indy Pride, Terrell Parker from Indiana Pride of Color and Chris Paulsen from Indiana Youth Group all join the conversation for this episode.
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Transcription of episode available below.
WHO YOU’RE LISTENING TO
- Angela Cain – Angela Cain Communications
- Myranda Warden – CICF community ambassador
- Elle Roberts – CICF community ambassador
- Chris Handberg – executive director of Indy Pride
- Terrell Parker – founder of Indiana Pride of Color and interim executive director of Brothers United
- Kit Malone – transgender education and advocacy coordinator at the ACLU of Indiana
- Chris Paulsen – executive director of Indiana Youth Group
- Tim – former youth at Indiana Youth Group
- Indiana Youth Group
- Indy Pride
- Indiana Pride of Color
- ACLU of Indiana
- Movement Advancement Project: Indiana’s Equality Profile and LGBT Population
- The Landscape of LGBT Protections in Indiana from Freedom Indiana
- Learn more about our community ambassadors
Welcome to For Good, Central Indiana Community Foundation’s podcast, highlighting stories about passion, purpose, and progress in Central Indiana.
At CICF, we believe in opportunity and equity. We believe that our communities and neighborhoods are stronger because of our diversity. And we believe that with innovation and boldness, Central Indiana can be a place where everyone can reach their full potential, no matter their place, race, or identity.
This is our community, and these are your stories.
The Gay Rights Movement experienced a rapid growth in the quest for equality in the last two decades. With some 207,000 people in the LGBTQIA community living in Indiana, about 4% of our adult population, what challenges, joys, and hopes do they face here? And why are some of their struggles internal?
Hello, I’m Angela Cain, your host for this special episode of For Good. CICF believes in giving all communities a voice by sharing their stories.
Imagine holding a secret, facing a truth deep and undeniable, but fearing rejection from those you love, if you share it. Imagine living your life in the shadows, because someone tells you …
MIRANDA: It’s wrong. You will go to hell.
That is the life of some people like Miranda Warden. She was born and raised on the Indianapolis west side, deeply involved in her grandfather’s church as a Sunday-school teacher and performer, but risked everything if her church knew she was gay.
MIRANDA: You will be removed from the church. Or the church will reject you. And they’ll always love you. You know, love the sinner, hate the sin kind of thing.
So what was their reaction when she summoned the courage to tell them?
MIRANDA: I could still go to the church, but I couldn’t be in leadership. And so all those things that I had spent my life doing I just couldn’t do anymore.
You were rejected in your church?
MIRANDA: Yes. Yeah, very much so.
How did that feel?
MIRANDA: Horrible. I mean, like … and for it to be, uh, my grandfather’s church, I mean, it was a rejection by my faith community, and it was a rejection by my family at the same time, and together, you know. So it was, I was very, very depressed, suicidal often.
These are the familiar stories of people in the LGBTQIA community in Indiana and across the nation.
But the drumbeat of change pounds heavily. Miranda’s partner, Elle Roberts, grew up in northwest Indiana, also in a religious family, but had a polar opposite experience.
ELLE: I, I think I was in this kind of latter millennial wave of, like, socially speaking, gay is okay. I never actually came out to my family. Um, I had a boyfriend. We broke up. And then I had a girlfriend. And, and I was like, “We’re not gonna talk about this.” [laughs]. They didn’t. We were fine. Who I love is a part of our family. Like, that’s just how it is.
The drumbeat of change pulsed, too, for Miranda a few years after she came out.
MIRANDA: Now, my grandfather has an affirming church, and they are a very welcoming family now.
MIRANDA: I’ve got some other gay family members as well, and so their coming out, too, I think it kind of, it, it got to a point of, like, “Well, we love you, so [laughs] … you know, the fight became futile, you know, because we just kept coming out.
Miranda and Elle’s experiences shaped them, and informed their passion and purpose to share their stories, and challenges of others, in the queer community.
MIRANDA: Queer has become, and is continuously becoming, a more umbrella term. LGBTQIA, the acronym itself, stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer-Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual folks.
Miranda and Elle volunteered to service two of 36 ambassadors recruited to help the Central Indiana Community Foundation better understand our communities and population groups.
They interviewed others in the queer community, and discovered an often unspoken problem. Although diverse, their community faces divides. It’s a mirror of the larger society.
ELLE: The queer community is no more or no less accepting than anywhere else, in terms of grappling with sexism, grappling with racism, grappling with classism, and so forth.
MIRANDA: It’s not surprising because racism is so pervasive. Um, but it is disappointing.
Miranda is white. Elle is African American. So they both bring unique perspectives to conversations about race. El:
ELLE: I feel wholly accepted in a lot of ways. And then, in others, I know that there’s so much work to do. Inside the queer community, I have experienced racism as a black woman, and as someone who is more feminine than masculine.
And Miranda says, “White gay men get more resources and more legislative attention for their key causes, such as marriage equality.”
MIRANDA: The issues that most affect white LGBTQ folks are the issues that get brought forward, and are the loudest. Whereas black and brown LGBTQ folks face employment discrimination at alarming rates, face homelessness at alarming rates.
Chris Handberg is the Executive Director of Indy Pride. It’s an organization that puts on the annual Pride Parade and Festival as well as other educational and celebratory events year-round. Chris admits that sometimes the struggle for rights in the queer community does eclipse individual group concerns. And in that space, a subtle racism can form. As a gay white man, he shares his view of their perspective.
CHRIS HANDBERG: You don’t wanna reflect on your own personal prejudices, because you’re finally in a safe place. And I can finally celebrate and be happy because gay marriage has passed, but I don’t want to take the time, now, to look at racism because that pushes me outside of that comfort zone, and it has been so exhausting and a long-hard fight to get here. Part of the job that I see Indy Pride part of the mission is to bring us together as a family and support each other. And for us, who have more privilege, to lift up the voices of those who don’t have as much privilege.
Terell Parker is an African American who founded Indiana Pride of Color, which celebrates the intersection of race and culture in the LGBTQ community. He’s also the Interim Executive Director of Brothers United, which focuses on HIV awareness, and health inequities.
TERELL: I think it’s realistic to say that some racism will exist within LGBTQ communities. But that’s why I say that we’re really well positioned to challenge that, because, as LGBTQ people, you know what it’s like to be marginalized, you know what it’s like to be isolated. That’s where we find that common ground, and that’s where we start to build from there. Because there is such a close-knit community, and we’re in a great position to where we can teach the majority community what it’s like to lead by example. We can show the majority community what it’s like to be anti-racism, or anti-sexism, or anti-homophobia.
Although Elle and Miranda see a lack of unity, as different queer groups operated in silos, they discovered an authentic desire to unify, build coalitions, and bridge the gaps.
MIRANDA: Our community cares about our community. We love one another deeply and fiercely. And that also comes along with the challenge to be better, for and to one another.
ELLE: It’s a family. And the family comes with all the function and the disfunction and those internal kind of issues, but, like, we are a family. And when, when we need to show up, we show up.
And when there is an outside threat to that family, they unite and fight. They did with RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which became Indiana law in 2015, and caused a national firestorm. Critics said it allowed businesses and other groups to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, denying service to them.
KIT: In the wake of that, there was a massive coalition that comes together. Massive rallies at the state house, just thousands of people showing up in all their queer glory.
Kit Malone was engaged in that fight as a transgender woman. She works for the ACLU of Indiana as the Transgender Education and Advocacy Coordinator. Kit says RFRA threatened the state’s economy as some businesses protested it, and threatened to leave.
KIT: The legislature sort of panics after seeing the- the damage it’s doing to the state.
But the queer community recalls it as a watershed moment when many in central Indiana, including many businesses stood with them. Chris Handberg with Indy Pride:
CHRIS HANDBERG: That was the time when people said, “No, we don’t want to discriminate against these people. These are my sons, and daughters, and brothers, and sisters, and husbands, and wives, you know, and children.” It was a time when the community came together.
Those state legislators revised RFRA. Kit Malone says Indiana doesn’t have a state-wide anti-discrimination ordinance giving civil rights to their community.
KIT: It’s still legal to discriminate against LGBTQ folk in the big three areas of housing, employment and public accommodation.
But change is happening. Kit says more than 20 cities and towns in Indiana, including Indianapolis, have passed anti-discrimination ordinances that protect the queer community and are enforceable. And RFRA influenced some of them.
KIT: I would say that it was a positive outgrowth of RFRA. They didn’t want to be left behind by the business community.
But Kit worries the trans community is falling behind, today, losing ground.
KIT: It feels like, to many of us, that we are living in the backlash, during the time in which we made a lot of progress socially, and, now, the haters are coming out of the woodwork.
The Human Rights Campaign reports 28 transgender people were murdered in the US in 2017, the most ever recorded in a year. And President Trump banned some trans people from the military and revoked protections for transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity in public schools.
Those who support the ‘bathroom bill’ argue that kids who are not transgender deserve privacy and safety in bathrooms. Miranda says the real threat is to trans-kids.
MIRANDA: The verbal and the physical attack come from folks who are afraid, and then attack trans-kids.
Central Indiana’s queer community, like all communities, is very protective of its youth, and worries about their future.
CHRIS PAULSEN: They’re our most vulnerable population.
Chris Paulsen is the Executive Director of the Indiana Youth Group. It creates safe places for LGBTQ youth to have fun together, and educational and wellness programs to meet their needs.
CHRIS PAULSEN: When you marginalize them, and make them feel less than, we huge rates of suicide. Indiana has the second-highest suicide rate of LGBTQ youth in the nation.
Why do you see a higher suicide rate here among the youth?
CHRIS PAULSEN: Lack of support. It’s a very conservative climate, and I think the youth are, one, afraid to come out, or, two, when they do come out, they get bullied in school, or they’re unsupported by their school system, or by their family, or by their church.
And Chris Paulsen says Central Indiana has a significant problem with homeless queer youth.
CHRIS PAULSEN: 25% of our youth are thrown out of their home, when they come out to their family.
They are people like Tim Cox, who was formerly homeless, at times living in his car.
TIM: Angela, there are multiple times that I wanted to die. I went four days without food once. The hardest part was thinking nobody would care, if I did … pass away. I think that if I had been what I was expected to be when I was born, straight, masculine, they would’ve been happier with me and wanted to give more of themselves to me. I think there’s just a lack of relatability and a lack of empathy and sympathy. That the person’s almost alien compared to the rest of the family. It’s traumatizing. It’s traumatizing for every LGBT youth in this situation.
Tim, now, works for the Indiana Youth Group. It empowered him through crises. And today, also serves as a drop-in site for homeless youth to shower, eat, and do laundry.
TIM: Put yourself in their shoes. No one would choose the discrimination that the LGBT community sees. No one would choose to feel worthless, especially by family.
What do you think that the community can do to help our young people feel less hopeless, suicidal?
CHRIS PAULSEN: Acceptance is the big thing. If there’s one accepting person in their life, their suicide rate drops tremendously.
And Miranda urges the community to support new shelters for queer kids.
MIRANDA: We need, need, need crisis housing in this city that will serve LGBTQ kids competently.
Although the queer community still faces some resistance, and discrimination in Indiana, El and Miranda discovered that many feel more welcome in Indianapolis today.
MIRANDA: We are shifting to being more open and accepting and affirming of LGBTQ folks, in general.
ELLE: Yes, there’s a lot to celebrate. There’s a lot of work to do.
Chris Paulsen, from the Indiana Youth Group, sums up why so many in the queer community stay here.
CHRIS PAULSEN: If everybody just pulled up stakes and left, change is never gonna come to Indiana. I believe that Indiana is a great place. I love living here. And I think we can make those changes by not running away.
They believe change emerges when we open ourselves to others.
KIT: Some of the most loving, caring, creative, intelligent, passionate, motivated people that I have known in my entire life are in this city’s queer community.
CHRIS HANDBERG: We have different experiences, but celebrate those differences. We would love to engage with you and celebrate who you are as a person, and we’d like you to see that in us.
TERRELL: We’re just all humans, and if you can meet people on a human-to-human level, then I think we’ll change the world.
MIRANDA: We don’t need to understand why I am the way I am, or why I love the way I love, in order to treat me with dignity.
ELLE: There is a lot about you, too, that is hard to understand, and yet, here I am loving as best I can. To reciprocate that is such a gift. We can all change each other if we engage. We can all change each other if we connect. We can all change each other if we see one another.
The Central Indiana Community Foundation believes that change has the possibility to unfold when we listen to each other’s stories. To learn more about the agencies we profiled in this podcast, go to cicf.org. I’m Angela Cain. I hope you’ve enjoyed this special episode of For Good.
We are Central Indiana Community Foundation, and you’ve been listening to For Good. If you liked what you heard today, we hope you’ll subscribe to For Good on your favorite podcast app. And while you’re there, don’t forget to leave us a review.
Join us next month for more stories about passion, purpose, and progress in Central Indiana.
For Good is brought to you by Central Indiana Community Foundation, in partnership with WFYI Public Media. To learn more about how CICF is changing our corner of the world for the better, visit cicf.org. Thank you for listening.