When it became clear there was a chance a bill offering some sort-of, maybe, kind-of civil rights protections for lesbian, gay and bisexual Hoosiers might emerge from the Indiana Senate and head to the House of Representatives, House Speaker Brian Bosma had a quick response.
"I have yet to talk to someone who thinks the bill is a good idea," said Bosma, a Republican from Indianapolis.
That probably says more how insulated from the real world Bosma and most lawmakers are than it does anything else, but then he went on.
"It is hard to balance freedom of conscience and discrimination issues," he said.
His statement echoed the "aw, shucks, this is too bad, but we're in a box here" position that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence staked out in his State of the State address a few days ago.
Pence, also a Republican, argued that his hands were tied because the state constitution establishes an absolute right of religious freedom.
"Our Supreme Court has made it clear that our constitution protects both belief and practice," the governor said at his most sonorous. Really?
The Bible endorses the practice of human slavery in several places.
Leviticus 25.44 is the best example. It says we're allowed to own slaves if we buy them from neighboring countries. If we Hoosiers were to permit that particular religious practice, we'd find ourselves encountering some problems.
The first is that we can assume that the flow of tourist traffic – and dollars – from Canada and Mexico would slow to a trickle. Who would want to come to a place where the residents think they're honoring both God and the constitution by shackling other human beings?
The second is that we'd have to think of something other than the "Great Emancipator" to call Abraham Lincoln in the textbooks.
And the third is that, if we were to grant that religious practice always should be exempted from civil law, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller's energetic and admirable campaign to crack down on human trafficking would run into a brick wall. Any human trafficker Zoeller wanted to punish could present a "religious freedom" defense and the court would have no choice but to honor the constitution and let exploiters of fellow human beings go free.
The absurdity here is meant to be instructive.
No one with an ounce of sanity or any kind of moral code now believes that human beings should be allowed to own other human beings.
Despite what the Bible says.
That's the point.
While we can and must create broad protections for citizens to honor and exercise their religious beliefs, there is no blanket exemption for people of faith to refuse to follow the law.
And there shouldn't be.
If such an exemption were in place, Quakers and other conscientious objectors on religious grounds would be entitled to take a 15- to 20-percent discount when it comes time to pay their federal taxes and not pay the portion of the budget devoted to military and defense spending.
In many ways, Mike Pence, Brian Bosma and so many other lawmakers in this state have wandered into a trap they built themselves. The bonds about which they complain are ones they knotted themselves.
The balancing act between society's needs and individual imperatives is nothing new.
Beliefs must be protected. If there are people who still think slavery would be a good idea, they are free to think what they wish. There's nothing we can or should do about that.
But if they try to put that belief into practice and proclaim ownership over other human beings – well, we can and should do something about that.
The same goes for the politics of sexual orientation and gender. If there are people who believe homosexuality is a sin, they are free to believe that – and there's nothing we can or should do about it.
But if they try to put that belief into practice in the public sphere and deny other people their rights as citizens – well, there's something we can and should do about that.
There's even a part of the Bible that addresses this question.
Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's.
The speaker, as I recall, was a figure of some importance in the Christian faith.
[Editor's note: The following is a speech delivered by August Mugele at the "Four Words and a Comma" rally held Saturday, Jan. 23. While the rally was designed to draw attention to the pending LGBT civil rights legislation, August, a 17-year-old transgender boy, wanted to bring attention to SB 35, a bill requiring people to use single sex restrooms, locker rooms and shower rooms according to one's anatomical make-up in public schools.]
I wish I could say that I'm happy to be here, but it actually really sucks that we all have to meet up like this to try and stop some shitty bill that shouldn't even have been thought into existence in the first place, but whatever – it's here and now we have to deal with it.
My name is August. I'm a seventeen year old boy, I spend a lot of time with my animals, and I like to watch action movies. I'm also transgender. That's a pretty big part of who I am; isn't gender always a pretty big part of who anyone is? Being trans isn't the easiest; as I'm sure so many people here know or have friends who tell them. But this "Pay to Pee" Bill — really? I'm just trying to take a leak here and you really want to fine me five thousand dollars because you don't like the bathroom I'm using? I'd like to fine your horrible personality, but that would just be petty, kind of like this bill.
To break it down, here's what Senate Bill 35 means: if you're trans and you find yourself needing to use the public facilities, that's illegal now. You can face up to five thousand dollars in fines or up to a year in jail. That's the second part of the bill; the first part makes it so that trans students — that's kids and teenagers like me — are forced to use bathrooms and locker rooms that they are uncomfortable using. Why exactly?
Apparently, it's preventative — conservatives are concerned that transgender people will attack cisgender people in the bathroom. Kind of them to worry, isn't it? There's this huge fear of us "preying" on innocent people in the bathrooms, as though we have an agenda of ruining people's day by making them a little uncomfortable for five to ten minutes. I don't know about you guys, but the most urgent thought in my mind when I book it for the toilets is my bladder. It's not about scaring people. This might sound weird, but it's literally just about having a safe place to relieve myself.
A lot of us remember Mike Huckabee's infamous quote on trans bathroom rights: "Now, I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE. I'm pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, 'Coach, I think I'd rather shower with the girls today.'" And the funny thing is that whenever this is brought up, it's always an argument from cis-men — men who say they would use the bathrooms to spy on women or girls.
Here's something interesting that maybe hasn't occurred to you: TRANS WOMEN ARE NOT MEN. WOMEN ARE NOT MEN. Women don't want to go to girls' bathrooms to spy on other women; they want to use the facilities, fix their makeup, or take a break from a stressful situation... that's what bathrooms are for. I certainly don't want to use the men's room at my school just to get a peek at the other boys. In fact, I often try to avoid the bathrooms, and that's because people like Senator James Tomes, who authored SB 35, have caused enough anxiety and drama over the bathroom issue that I'm scared to go. I'm scared that someone's going to police my appearance and tell me I don't belong. I wonder if Senator Tomes could imagine this sort of fear: trying to decide between the men's room, the one he would like to use but knows is illegal, and women's room, where he would never look like he belonged and would have to enter with discretion. There's something much more unsettling about the image of a man entering the woman's restroom than a trans woman in a woman's restroom... it's exactly what conservatives hope to avoid, yet it's also the reality of this bill.
That's the worst part about this for me — that every time I would use the bathrooms at school, I would have to walk into the girls' room. The girls know that I'm not one of them; I'm out at my school, so they know I don't belong there. I would be intruding on a private space for them. A lot of them would be curious as to why the hell I, a guy, would even be there. And anyone who saw me enter the bathroom would immediately know something intimate and personal about me. They would know that I'm "not like the other guys."
I could go on and on about why this bill is problematic, but here's the main problem with it: it's an excuse for ignorance. It doesn't solve any problem, simply because there's no problem that exists. Do you know how much statistical evidence there is to back up these claims of sexual violence? According to the Transgender Law Center, that would be exactly zero. The director of communications at the National Center for Transgender equality said that they have "not heard of a single instance of a transgender person harassing a non-transgender person in a public restroom." Source after source, no matter where you look, will yield no evidence of this huge conservative fear. And even more than that, in school's where they allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choosing, the vast majority has experienced no problems with boys attempting to claim "transness" as an excuse to spy on girls. So thankfully Mike Huckabee, so thoughtfully concerned for us, has nothing to worry about.
So if all that is true, if there is no evidence of exactly what this bill is trying to prevent, then why on earth does it exist? And even if there were a few cases of harassment, you would really sacrifice the comfort and well-being (especially where trans women are concerned) of approximately 700,000 Americans just on the off chance? The only reason, then, that I could think of for this bill to exist is to generate a fear of trans people in the public.
Conservatives claim to want to keep people safe and comfortable in bathrooms. I guess that doesn't include trans people. What about my safety, Senator Tomes? What about the comfort of all the kids like me? High schoolers and middle schoolers and little kids shouldn't be scared to go to the bathroom. Don't forget to protect all of your citizens.
Where I go to school, and I bet where a lot of people go to school, the bathroom isn't only someplace for relieving yourself, it's a place to socialize. When my female friends need a moment, they go to bathrooms in packs, a phenomenon I'm sure isn't unfamiliar to most of you. When the boys at some schools finish a basketball or soccer game, they change together in the locker room and celebrate their win – these are atmospheres of bonding. Sometimes at my school, kids even rush to the bathroom after the last bell to change out of their uniforms and chat with one another through the stalls. Should I be left out of that? Should I be denied and excluded from my friends because of the gender I was mistakenly assigned at birth? A lot has changed in the past seventeen years, let me tell you.
If you're so interested in protecting the comfort of students, why don't you start with my comfort? I'll bet you get far more complaints of distress and anxiety from trans students than non-trans students when it comes to using bathrooms and locker rooms. We don't need protection against trans people – we need protection for trans people. I deserve to be able to talk with my friends in the changing rooms. I deserve to feel comfortable and secure when I need to relieve myself. I deserve to have my privacy respected when it comes to people knowing the status of my chromosomes or my genitals when it comes to time to walk through one door or the other.
The government has the duty to protect its citizens — if it's not too much to ask, I'd like to feel safe in my own high school's bathroom. I'd like to be treated like a normal boy, which is what I am. It's not about harassment — take it from me, take it from any trans person you ask: we really just need to pee.
Cannabidiol for the treatment of epilepsy. Provides that certain prohibitions against granting a license to a grower or handler of industrial hemp do not apply to growers and manufacturers that process cannabidiol (CBD) and meet certain requirements. Requires the state seed commissioner to establish testing standards for CBD. Establishes requirements for facilities and manufacturers that manufacture or process CBD. Allows CBD that is manufactured and tested in Indiana to be used by certain physicians, patients, and caregivers. Establishes a CBD registry for certain physicians, patients, and caregivers for the use of CBD from hemp in the treatment of a child with intractable epilepsy. Establishes a pilot study registry for physicians interested in studying the use of CBD in the treatment of intractable epilepsy. Requires the state department of health to develop and maintain both registries. Provides civil, criminal, and administrative immunity for: (1) physicians in the use of CBD in the treatment of intractable epilepsy; (2) certain growers of industrial hemp; and (3) facilities and manufacturers of CBD; if certain requirements are met. Exempts caregivers and patients from criminal penalties for possession or use of CBD if the caregivers and patients are registered with the state department and are using the CBD for the patient and in the manner approved for registration. Encourages state educational institutions to research the use of CBD in the treatment of intractable epilepsy.Senator Patricia Miller (R), chair of the committee this bill was referred to — Health and Provider Services — has essentially killed the bill in committee. What follows is an open letter from Miriah Stewart Mershon to Senator Miller, originally posted on Facebook and reprinted with permission verbatim.
Here is my letter to Senator Miller. Please read and use whatever information you need to compose your own emails or phone calls. Her email is Senator.Miller@iga.in.gov and her phone numbers are 317-232-9489 or 317-232-9400.
Dear Senator Pat Miller,
In response to your recent 'killing' of Senator Thomes bill SB 258, I find your actions highly deplorable. Your statement that there was not enough interest within the Senate to even hear this bill is, to me, a personal decision, not one based on fact. I attended and spoke at several committee meetings in regards to the industrial hemp bill in 2014 and had enormous support. So much so that the bill passed the Senate floor unanimously. I have also had many senators and representatives approach me after my testimonies to offer their support and gratitude for helping to bring this topic to light. You see, I have a personal stake in this bill and I will work tirelessly to see it come to fruition.
My husband and I have a four year old child who suffers from Dravet Syndrome. Dravet syndrome is a rare genetic epileptic encephalopathy (dysfunction of the brain). It begins in the first year of life in an otherwise healthy infant. The disease begins in infancy but is lifelong. Jameson suffers from several seizure types including: Myoclonic seizures, Tonic clonic seizures, Absence seizures, Atypical absence seizures, Atonic seizures, Partial seizures, and Non-convulsive status epilepticus. Jameson has had seizures that last more than an hour and had so many clustered together it is impossible to keep count. With your medical background and training I am positive that you can interpret this information for what it is...a poor prognosis.
Now let's talk about how this affects the lives of my family. Every day Jameson needs medicine at 6am, noon and 6pm. Daily, I open his door and the breath catches in my chest as I say a prayer that I will hear movement from his bed. Did my son perish in the night? After my heart stops racing, I begin to get him ready for his day. First and foremost is always his medicine. Then I spend the next 10 minutes dressing him as he fights through a series of myoclonic jerks. The 'I'm not awake yet' stage for Jameson is pretty tough. Since he is non-verbal, he cannot tell me when he feels a seizure coming on or when he is finished. Then I herd my two daughters to the car as I carry Jameson and his emergency bag. He must always have an O2 monitor, oxygen, his VNS magnet, and emergency meds along with his regular medications. I drop him at the sitters, drop the girls at school and then drive 40 minutes to my job.
I work for IU Health Arnett in an OB-GYN office. I spend all day helping other women bring healthy children into this world. Before and after each patient, I check my phone for messages from the sitter about my son. I have met the ambulance many times at the hospital due to seizures that were not responsive to the VNS or meds.
After work I drive straight home to help my husband with the daily routine of homework, sports, extra curricular activities, dinner and of course, caring for Jameson. Since some of his seizures are hard to detect unless you are used to him, he is under constant supervision. My husband and I must divide all activities with our daughters so that one of us can be with them and the other at home with Jameson. Due do heat being a trigger, Jameson cannot attend his sisters swim meets or softball games. Because over stimulation can trigger a seizure, he cannot attend volleyball games or choir concerts.
Finally, at the end of everyday, we all kiss Jameson goodnight and he is put to bed. I think even my daughters understand at 12 and 8 that they are kissing him 'just in case'. When I finally go to bed I pray for God to heal my son and hope that his seizure monitor doesn't go off in the middle of the night signaling yet another seizure and sleepless night.
Since medical bills are quite overwhelming, my husband works overtime most weekends to cover these expenses. This means I am on my own to handle any activities for the girls and to care for Jameson. I cannot take him to the grocery store (the lights and people trigger seizures), all summer outdoor activities or off limits (heat), any indoor recreational facilities (bounce houses, trampolines, playgrounds) are too stimulating and for the past year, church has been impossible due to the stained glass windows and the pattern in the ceiling tiles triggering seizures.
Why is it that a bill to help children with epilepsy is always lumped together with medical marijuana for all? The bill that was proposed was for a registry of approved CBD users. This would allow me to give my son the CBD oil without fear of retribution or arrest. Had you come to any of the hemp hearings or attended the exploratory hearing this summer (that had such little interest it lasted 6 hours and speakers were being cut off) you would have learned that CBD oil has little to no THC. I don't know how to make that more clear. You would have witnessed parents in desperate situations, not drug abusers. I have met several other families with children with Dravet, CDKL5 and undiagnosed seizure disorders and these people are not drug abusers. Believe me, the strict regimen, endless care and constant insurance issues are hard enough to handle with a clear head. Marijuana is not our religion, it is not our way of life and I could care less about the legalization for recreational use. I am frankly no too happy about being pigeon holed into that image.
Senator Miller, I wonder what you would have done had one of your children, or your grandchildren been diagnosed with a disorder as severe as this? Would you have sat back and let nature take its course? Would you fight for anything to help your family? Would you know what pain I feel every day as I give my son medicine to save his life that day, knowing that it will likely cause his death in the future? Would you be okay giving medications that 'sort of' work but cause liver and kidney damage? Would you consent for your two year old to have surgery to implant a device that is 'helpful' in preventing and stopping seizures?
I am curious what is more 'interesting' to your committees.
I will end with this: My son is a blessing. He has changed more lives in his four years than most people do in a lifetime. Jameson is happy and makes us happy. He may not speak but his mommy can and I will. God gave us this blessing and this trial for a reason and we will succeed.
I was wowed by Governor Pence's State of the State talk; I had no idea everything was so wonderful in the Hoosier Holyland. Then, imagine my surprise when the news hit: Indiana suffers from more people moving out than moving in.
Out-migration is like hair loss. People don't like to talk about it. Certainly governors wouldn't recognize that, when people are free to move from state to state, certain states are less attractive to movers than other states. Hoosiers seem to live in one of those less attractive states. But don't tell anyone lest you be invited to leave yourself.
Of course, if you follow the reports of the U.S. Census Bureau, you know something like this has been going on for some time. Yet, what loyal Hoosier would believe anything coming from Washington, the center of malevolent statistical manipulation?
Relax. These data come from a respected private sector source: Atlas Van Lines, the folks who transported furniture, appliances and stuff for 77,700 households across state lines in 2015.
Note: these were households, not persons as stated by an internet source (rag?) called Business Insider. The number of persons involved is unknown.
My imagination tells me that people who use professional movers like Atlas are older and wealthier than the foot-loose Millennials our cities want to attract with bike paths, trolley cars, quaint, if decayed, Victorian homes, and other amenities of a century ago. Hence, these data could be a vast understatement of the net outbound migration.
Atlas' data tell us that Indiana ranked sixth in the nation with nearly 60 percent of its traffic flowing out of our state versus 40 percent inbound. People are choosing better opportunities elsewhere or moving to those greener pastures where their children have already gone.
Die-hards will counter: "Let 'em go. We don't need 'em, we don't want 'em. They only make the streets more crowded if they stay."
However, those who leave take with them their earning power, savings, pensions, purchasing power, and children. This weakens our state's economy and makes us poorer in the long run.
The ugly fact is: 39 of Indiana's counties in 2010 were below their peak populations of the last century. Lake County's population was 50,248 (nine percent) lower than its 1970 peak. Other major deficits, ranging from 10,000 to 14,000 persons, were in Grant, Delaware, Vermillion, Sullivan and Wayne counties. The sum of all 39 deficits was 205,400 persons.
With populations short of their historic peaks, the costs of infrastructure maintenance and repair are spread over fewer people and businesses. Often there are no advantages of smaller populations for schools, shops, hospitals, and other vital services.
Population decline, where over-crowding never existed, is not a graceful process; it stirs no pride, gives little joy and certainly erodes hope. Perhaps we could help the many refugees waiting with hope for a new start in life.
I work part-time at a community center in my neighborhood. One of my elementary students loves braiding, and for a child growing into dexterity, he's a pretty talented hair stylist. When all the kids are in the gym playing a mash-up version of dodgeball and field hockey, he's seated behind me in the bleachers, weaving my locks into a fishtail down my left shoulder. The first time I let him braid my hair, his fingers were tangled up in my tresses before he thought to ask me — a teachable moment too perfect not to seize.
"I'm not upset with you, but if you want to touch my hair, you must have my permission first."
He offered a sincere apology, and with my consent he proceeded to manipulate my hair into a cute up-do I wore for the rest of the afternoon. After that day, whenever I saw him playing in another kid's hair, I asked both if consent was requested and given, and nearly every time the answer was yes or rectified right away. I don't think opportunities to teach children in real time are as effortless as the moments with my hair-braiding student, but bringing more formal education to schools on setting and respecting boundaries, asking and giving consent is a worthy investment.
Recent research conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control show 17.3 percent of Indiana high school girls reported experiencing rape or sexual assault in 2014, a percentage significantly higher than the national average of 10.5 percent. Since the report's release, Rep. Christina Hale (D-Indianapolis) has focused her legislative efforts on decreasing the rate of teen sexual assault in Indiana. Her latest goal is to introduce a bill this session making consent a required part of the state's sex education curriculum.
The inspiration for the bill may be modeled after California law. All schools serving students grades 7 through 12 must offer comprehensive sex education courses and mandatory consent lessons. The hope is to remove the stigma for young people to talk comfortably with trusted adults and each other about their changing bodies and sexuality, equip students with safe and practical ways to sexually engage with or abstain from others, and provide space to learn about consent relevant and applicable to their lived experiences.
Indiana's sex education curriculum is not nearly as robust as California's. Current Indiana law does not require school districts to offer sex education, but if districts choose to, sex education must be included in general health classes and stress abstinence and monogamous marriage as the best ways to avoid teen pregnancy, STDs, and STIs. Thankfully, the Hoosier approach to sex education is a step above strict abstinence-only programs that have been proven ineffective and even counterproductive. In a time when just a quarter of parents report regularly and openly talking with their children about sex, sexuality, and dating beyond disciplinary rules, a network of parents and trusted adults can help children navigate rising hormones and budding bodies.
As demonstrated by my hair-braiding student, teaching children the value of ownership over their bodies is a lesson in consent that can be applied to situations where setting and respecting emotional, physical, and sexual boundaries is an invaluable social skill. Along with addressing teen rape and sexual assault, consent education may help reduce unplanned pregnancy and dating violence among Hoosier teenagers, two other rates of occurrence in Indiana hovering well above the national average.
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reports the national rate of teen pregnancy between 1991 and 2012 is down a historic 57 percent. In Indiana, the rate has only dropped 45 percent. Just over 6,200 Indiana teenagers birthed a child in 2014. There is no current research on the Indiana teen birth rate determining how many pregnancies are a result of consensual sex or rape. Considering the state's teen rape rate is among the highest in the country, informed assumption includes the reality that a number of teen pregnancies are due to sexual violation.
When Heather Norris was brutally murdered by her estranged high school boyfriend in 2007, her mother Debbie worked tirelessly to pass Heather's Law, signed by former Governor Mitch Daniels in 2010. The law requires the Department of Education and domestic violence organizations to provide age-appropriate abuse and dating violence education programs for students grades 6 through 12. According to Ball State University, 11.3 percent of Indiana high school students report experiencing physical abuse from a dating partner in 2011. A basic tenet of physical abuse, as well as emotional and sexual, is false entitlement over someone else's body as a means of gaining and maintaining power and control.
Consent education, one way to complement inconsistent sex education offerings in Indiana, has significant potential to mitigate sexual abuse and teen pregnancy, physical abuse and teen dating violence without overriding current Indiana law or trumping parental guidance. Consent education can bolster social and sexual safety for Hoosier teenagers into adulthood.
I often wonder if my hair-braiding student remembers to ask for others' permission before touching their hair when he is not in my care. I hope our momentary lessons on consent serve as a reminder no matter where life leads him. Hale has the opportunity to promote consent education for young people statewide, and her impending bill deserves committee consideration and votes this legislative session.