By Michael Nam
With the controversy of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act still casting a pall over LGBT dealings with the Hoosier State, one member of the state’s GOP, Mayor Greg Ballard of Indianapolis, has gone out of his way to show acceptance and hospitality as Pride Week begins.
“I was a little stunned to find out I was the first sitting mayor, honestly, so I am really proud of that to be frank with you,” said Mayor Ballard about his historic status as the Grand Marshal, according to WTHR.com. “I go to the festival every year and there are just a ton of people there and they are just having fun.”
The enthusiastic response from a Republican elected official contrasts mightily with the tone of the legislation that attempted to mask anti-LGBT bigotry under the guise of “religious freedom.” Attempts to soften the damage to the state’s reputation also have been met with some disappointment and skepticism.
Gov. Mike Pence, who signed the RFRA bill into law and was unapologetic about it until the public backlash intensified, released a welcome letter to the Pride organizers late last week, but The News-Sentinel reported it came as what critics considered to be a generic form letter.
“One can always wish and hope for more,” said Chris Morehead, president of Circle City IN Pride Festival. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but some sort of statement saying welcome to the LBGT community at large, to all visitors, as well as to those in the state of Indiana, would have been a wonderful addition.”
The letter does not mention the Pride event by name or make reference to anything involving LGBT issues whatsoever.
Despite Mayor Ballard and many Hoosiers explicitly endorsing the event and supporting the LGBT community, the GOP legislature and the governor have done little to reassure the public that they are firmly against anti-gay bigotry. Republican lawmakers in Indiana even decided against a public study on potential new legal anti-discrimination language for the 2016 legislative session.
Unlike many of his fellow Republicans, the welcoming Mayor Ballard spoke out against the RFRA legislation after its passage. He even signed an executive order that would bar any entity doing business with the city of Indianapolis from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“For decades, our city has been recognized as one of the world’s most welcoming communities,” Mayor Ballard said in a statement shown on WISH-TV. “Hoosier Hospitality is alive and well, and the Pride Parade is going to be a great opportunity to demonstrate that.”