Hoosier Hospitality: Notes from the Anti-RFRA Rally in Indianapolis, IN

Hoosier Hospitality

My governor, Mike Pence, managed to make our state the laughing stock of the whole damn country earlier this week when he signed SB 101, the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Celebrities and companies quickly managed to make their outrage known with calls to boycott the state and calls to remove Governor Pence from office. My Facebook wall and messages began to run hotter than hell by Thursday afternoon, mere hours after Pence signed the bill.

I had heard there was a demonstration going on downtown on Saturday at the statehouse through some activist friends and immediately made plans to attend. The first order of business was to hook a ride, then get the signs and Colors ready. Getting a ride was no problem, I called my buddy Dave who had stood the line with me when we protested against Westboro Baptist Church when they came to our fair city on the occasion of the Super Bowl (I guess God hates the NFL?). He was anxious to get on the lines again and we immediately set up a 10:30 AM rendezvous on Saturday morning to go into it and kick ass.

Unfortunately, when I called Dave as I was driving home from work on Friday, he sounded sick and was out for the weekend. It took some scrambling on my end and a few panicked phone calls, but finally I contacted Kathleen, a fellow worker from the Indiana IWW. I knew she would be going to the rally. She agreed to pick me up at 11:15 in the morning after she finished up some union business down in Bloomington.

I got up around 9:00 AM and turned on the coffee maker. After about an hour, I called Kathleen to make sure things were still on. She assured me they were, but she was running just a wee bit behind. I said that was no problem, we would still have plenty of time.

She was running a bit more behind than planned; we finally hit the road to Indianapolis at 12:30. She apologized profusely, but I assured her it was alright. We would be cutting it razor’s edge close and unfortunately for my friends who wanted to tag along they would be on their own. We lit a cigarette and sped off.

We hit the picket sight at around 1:15, we missed the opening blast; apparently the Indianapolis Gay Men’s Choir came out and sang some songs. But that was it as far as what we missed.

We hooked up with Sebastian, Cassius, and Millie. I gave them picket signs to hold as they requested. I tied my flag around me cape-style and then called Brother Tom from Ohio. He said he was gonna be there and wanted to meet up. I told him I was by the big statue with the guys. Soon he sauntered up, holding his GetEQUAL clipboard. We had known each for years online through mutual friends in the activist community and now we were meeting in the flesh on a picket line. Christ, how much more poetic can you get?

We were at the back edge of the crowd and couldn’t hear a thing; Tom said he knew a way to get closer so we followed him to a spot in the thick of the crowd. Unfortunately, we still couldn’t hear anything; the sound system wasn’t powerful enough to carry the calls for revolution through the crowd.

And Jesus, what a crowd! I’ve been doing queer related pickets throughout the state for the last twelve years and I had never seen anything like it. Here in Indiana, if you get a couple hundred folks, it’s a big event. There was probably 2,000 Hoosiers standing on the statehouse lawn, waving signs, waving flags, united in the voice that our governor sucked and this “religious freedom” bill was a load of bigoted horseshit.

It wasn’t just the size of the crowd, it was the mix; there were mothers, fathers, little children, there were stone obvious street activists like Tom and I, there were college students getting their first taste of action, there were atheists and preachers (one group held up the flag of the Episcopal Church, the local diocese had just issued a press statement against the bill). It was beautiful, a wide mix of folks who wanted to show the state and the country that the bill was a complete affront to the Hoosier Hospitality our state was famous for.

Bad sound system or not, the crowd roared, cheered, sang, and chanted. I continued to run into old friends on the picket line, college buddies, fellow union members, comrades in the Socialist Party, I even ran into Suley, an old counselor friend from the Krietenstein days. It was great to see so many buddies out on the line to stand up for equality in our home state.

The rally came to an end shortly before 3:00 with a call to keep up the fight and meet up again on Monday for another action. The news cameras got their footage and the newspapers got their photos, the message was clear, we weren’t gonna let Governor Pence get away with this bullshit without a fight.

One thing that really struck me about the rally was the lack of a counter-demonstration. If you listened to Governor Pence and his cronies, it was only a small minority that was against the bill, most people supported it. Well gee, if the RFRA had such broad support, I didn’t see it anywhere on the lawn of the statehouse that Saturday afternoon. There was supposedly one guy standing off to the side holding a sign against us, but I didn’t see him.

After the rally fizzled out, with a few stragglers still singing some songs and jawjacking about the next event; my group agreed that we needed to get some lunch. Tom said he would give me a ride home since Kathleen had to get on to Terre Haute to hash out some union related business. I waved bye to Kathleen, then myself, Tom, Tiffani, Sebastian, Cassius, and Millie walked off to get some chow.

On the way to Tom’s car to drop off the picket signs, this lady came up to us and asked if there were any signs laying around. She was with the Indianapolis Public Library and wanted some signs for a display to mark the event. We directed her towards the statehouse lawns where there were still a few stragglers, but before she left, I gave her one of my signs for her display.

We ended up at this joint called Sahm’s (pronounced “psalms”) just a block from the hotel Tiffani was staying at. We managed to find a table big enough for our group and then sat down. The waiter came around for drink orders and while everyone else stayed dry, ordering Cokes and tea, I ordered a shot of Wild Turkey. The rally was finished and the stress was starting to seep out of my head, a shot of bourbon would be the perfect toast.

Sandwiches soon arrived and we spent the next hour or so gorging ourselves and telling war stories from work and picket lines. I suppose to some it may have seemed like we were agitated, but it was a table of six militant queers, unwinding from a demonstration and letting their hair down.

After lunch, Sebastian, Cassius, and Millie went to their car to drive home and I went with Tom and Tiffani to get a ride back to Avon. On the way, Tiffani got a phone call from another coordinator in GetEQUAL. I didn’t catch the whole bit, but from the tone of it, it sounded like Tiffani was pleased with how the demonstration went. I smiled a bit inwardly, feeling pretty proud that my home state’s action against bigotry would impress somebody from Texas.

Tom and Tiffani hugged me goodbye and got on the road at around 6:00. It had been a long day and I needed desperately to unwind. My brother knocked on my door, brandishing two bottles of Thunderbird wine. We gorged on the gutter hooch and I passed out shortly before midnight.

I woke up the next morning nursing a wino headache and ABC’s This Week on the TV. George Stephanopoulos was interviewing none other than Governor Mike Pence. Pence was supposedly on the show to “clarify” SB 101, instead he ended up making a total ass out of himself on national television. Stephanopoulos asked him point blank if the law was discriminatory, if the law was designed to be used against LGBT folks and Pence kept giving him the run-around. Stephanopoulos grew increasingly flustered and said straight-up “Governor, it’s a yes or no question.” Pence still gave him the exact same run-around, accusing opponents of the bill of misreading it, of not understanding it. If Pence wanted to clarify the bill, he did a piss-poor job of it and left George Stephanopoulos even more confused.

The appearance on This Week wasn’t the only media clusterfuck the Governor caused that weekend; he was interviewed by the Indianapolis Star on Saturday and with several thousand people standing right outside the statehouse, he said he didn’t anticipate the backlash of the bill. Well gee, Governor, you signed a piece of legislation that opens the door to discrimination hardly a year after a proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality in Indiana (an amendment you supported) failed in the statehouse. You and your supporters have been looking for revenge against LGBT Hoosiers and you wonder why everybody’s so upset with you?

I love Indiana, I grew up here, my friends and family are here, my life is here; I’m proud that my state had a reputation for hospitality. Unfortunately, my governor unzipped his fly and took a long steaming piss on the legendary reputation of Hoosier Hospitality. Thanks a lot, Governor Pence; you turned our state into the laughing stock of the country.

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