LGBT to the Statehouse 

How RFRA gave rise to two state candidates

click to enlarge Dana Black and Keith Potts are running for office in 2016 with the hopes of bringing the LGBT voice to the statehouse. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • Dana Black and Keith Potts are running for office in 2016 with the hopes of bringing the LGBT voice to the statehouse.
  • submitted photo

Throughout history, movements have grown out of someone telling another that they can't do something. Denial is a great motivator for change. In Indiana, the realization of the denial of certain rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people has motivated several people to action.

The state legislature's passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) shed light on rights that LGBT people don't currently have. While many groups and organizations are lobbying state legislators to change the state's civil rights laws to include "four words and a comma" (sexual orientation, gender identity), two people have stepped up to say change in the state legislature will only come from the inside. These two people believe that an LGBT voice is missing in state government.

Like the late State Rep. Bill Crawford used to say, "If you aren't at the table, then you are probably on the menu."

Dana Black and Keith Potts have decided they and their LGBT brethren are no longer going to be served up on a platter. They want to belly up to the table.

click to enlarge Dana Black - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • Dana Black
  • submitted photo

Dana Black

Dana Black is a native Hoosier and Indianapolis resident. She grew up on Indy's northside and graduated from North Central High School. (Go Panthers!)

As an African-American lesbian, Black grew increasingly tired of how leaders in the state legislature continued to marginalize her and her wife throughout the marriage equality debate.

"Not everybody believes the way you believe but I still have to pay my taxes," says Black. "I didn't see an LGBT tax break with HJR-3. That's taxation without representation."

The debate surrounding HJR-3 and how House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) handled it was a big deal for Black. But it was the 2014 election that ultimately was the last straw sealing her fate as a candidate.

"There was no Democrat for me to vote for," says Black. "[I live in the] most Democratic county in the state and there was no Democrat to vote for."

Bosma was unopposed in the 2014 election — a seat he has held since 1986.

"Democracy is about choice. I deserve to have a choice. I had no choice," says Black. "For a candidate to win with no competition? Give me a break. That's unacceptable."

Black believes that Bosma has gotten so comfortable in his position that he is ignoring the will of his constituents — not just the ones who agree with him, but rather all of the people who live in the 88th District.

"Does he realize we [LGBT people] are in his district?" asks Black. "You are the speaker of the House. Speaker means that you speak for everyone, not just the conservative Christian base."

LGBT issues aren't the only reason why Black is running for office. She has a lot of issues she would like to see addressed. Inequality in the criminal justice system, especially among African-American men, and prison reform are big issues Black believes need statehouse attention now. Mental health needs, education, a living wage, equal pay for equal work and the state's road infrastructure are also high on her priority list.

"For the governor to claim we have a surplus when there are bridges on the verge of collapse really means that there is no surplus. It's taxpayer dollars not being used they way it should be," says Black. "And it shouldn't be a partisan issue. I'm pretty sure that if a Republican and Democrat are in the same car at the same time when a bridge collapses with their car on it, I'm pretty certain that both of them will be injured."

Black realizes that there are things about her that may make people feel uncomfortable. You will never see her in a dress, but rather a custom suit, shirt, tie and men's shoes. (Note: Dana Black is not transgender, but rather a woman who has found her sense of style and comfort in what is traditionally men's clothing.) Her near waist length thin dreadlocks are a part of her signature look. She knows that some people are going to be put off by that, but she isn't going to change who she is to satisfy someone else's image of who she should be.

"I'm a woman [and] I'm Black, so being gay was just one more thing. Why should I not be myself?" she says.

Still, she believes the demographics of the 88th District and the entire state have changed and are continuing to change, but the representation in the statehouse has not changed. Black also believes that change can never come unless voters have a choice when they go to the polls and she is determined to give people another choice, instead of the same old thing they've had for the last 30 years.

"I was 15 years old when he [Bosma] was first elected to the statehouse," says Black. "To me, being in office for 30 years means it's time to give him a gold watch and send him home."

click to enlarge Keith Potts - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • Keith Potts
  • submitted photo

Keith Potts

Professional actor and entertainer Keith Potts grew up in the Chicago area, went to college in Boston and spent a good portion of his career in either New York or Los Angeles. It was a job that brought him to Indianapolis and finding the love of his life that made him stay.

"When I was working here in Indiana, I fell in love in Indiana and I fell in love with Indiana," Potts says with a smile.

Potts says there had always been an interest in politics from a constituent perspective before, but following the marriage equality story was the main catalyst for his recent interest.

"The earth has been trembling in terms of the LGBT community in Indiana over the last couple of years with the marriage equality hype and the religious freedom legislation this year," says Potts. "I feel a strong LGBT voice in our state legislature could be a positive first step in making sure that there is equal protection and fair treatment under the law."

The marriage equality debate motivated Potts to get involved and that involvement continue through the RFRA debate. But there was one shining moment that shifted Potts from an active citizen to a candidate — when Mike Pence appeared on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

"He refused to give a straight answer on whether he would protect the LGBT community and LGBT Hoosiers," recalls Potts. "That's when I decided that it is time for someone in the LGBT community to get in there, to get their hands dirty and to have our voices heard."

Potts' residency put him in an area where he could challenge one of the co-authors of the terrible legislation that made Indiana the laughingstock of the nation. Potts had made up his mind he would run for State Senate in District 30, a seat currently held by Sen. Scott Schneider.

"I didn't think that he was fairly and accurately representing me as a voter, the district in which I live, and the state in which I live," says Potts.

However, a few months ago Schneider announced he would not seek reelection, concentrating his efforts instead on his family's business. That leaves the District 30 seat open for new representation.

"And I'm very much looking forward to seeing who else jumps into this race, whether that's additional candidates in the Democratic primary or if and when the Republicans have a candidate that they want to put into the race for District 30," says Potts. "But I very much think that the district and the state are ready for change. And with 2016 being our bicentennial, what better time for it."

Like Dana Black, Keith Potts plans to bring more than just his LGBT voice to the statehouse. He has a laundry list of issues he feels are in desperate need of attention from state government. They all fall into three basic categories: investments, infrastructures and inequalities. And beyond LGBT issues, he is most passionate about the safety and working conditions of those who work for pharmacies. It may seem like a random issue, but for Potts it is very personal — his fiancé is a pharmacist who was recently robbed at gunpoint. According to Potts there are no state requirements for safety or security.

"I'm of course an LGBT Hoosier, but I'm not running to represent just LGBT Hoosiers. I'm running to represent all Hoosiers," says Potts. "And my voice in the state legislature just won't affect my district, it'll represent folks from up in Gary to all the way in Evansville. I'm very excited and optimistic about the change that we can bring." 

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Amber Stearns

Amber Stearns

Amber Stearns was born, raised, and educated right here in Indianapolis. She holds a B.S. in Communications from the University of Indianapolis (1995). Following a 20-year career in radio news in Indiana, Amber joined NUVO as News Editor in 2014.

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