INDIANAPOLIS — Despite failure at the General Assembly, local communities, including, most recently, Evansville and Kokomo, continue to enact their own anti-discrimination ordinances.
Currently Indiana doesn't offer statewide protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation.
Both groups have been warning that inaction on the matter by Republican Gov. Mike Pence and the GOP-controlled Legislature will harm the state's ability to attract talent and business to the state.
This session, the GOP-controlled Senate took up two bills addressing LGBT rights. But the proposals were killed amid fierce opposition from social conservatives.
On Tuesday, Kokomo became the latest Indiana city to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Mayor Greg Goodnight signed the ordinance Tuesday after the city's Common Council approved the ordinance 5-4 Monday night.
Other Indiana cities, including Carmel and Columbus, have adopted similar protections.
The council also voted to ban discrimination based on marital status, age or veteran status. The city ordinance covers race, religion, color, sex, familial status, disability, national origin and ancestry.
Council member Steve Whikehart, who voted for the ordinance, said it's "paramount" to send a message that "Kokomo is a welcome and inclusive community."
LGBT rights group Freedom Indiana’s Chris Paulsen said Tuesday that her organization will continue to support communities that want to move forward on protecting LGBT Hoosiers.
“We’ll be available to help with resources. We’d like it to be a local effort. We want people in the community to be heard and that’s why you saw, in Kokomo, it was just people of Kokomo speaking,” she said.
Groups on the other side of the issue haven’t had much recent success stopping local ordinances. But they have fueled victories at the ballot box for state lawmakers. Some leading LGBT rights groups can’t legally do that sort of work. But Indiana Competes’ Peter Hanscom says that doesn’t mean individual LGBT advocates aren’t working on voter outreach.
“Folks are smart enough to connect the dots to realize, these are the people who get to vote on if I get civil rights or not, so I’m going to pay attention," Hanscom said.
Paulsen says state lawmakers – mostly Republicans, so far – have reached out to her since session ended, seeking to learn more about LGBT rights.