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Third House session turns to topic of LGBT civil rights January 26, 2016 Source: Kokomo Perspective

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Buck, Cook, and Karickhoff discuss their thoughts on senate bills 100 and 344

By Devin Zimmerman

With the issue of civil rights for the LGBT community taking center stage at the Indiana Statehouse on Wednesday, it didn’t take long for the discussion at last week’s Third House session to turn to the topic.

The first question directed at Senator Jim Buck and state representatives Tony Cook and Mike Karickhoff brought the issue to the forefront of discussion.

“My question is about the state’s failure to protect LGBT Hoosiers,” said Howard County Democratic Party Chair David Tharp. “The fallout from RFRA has impacted convention business and our state’s ability to attract talent. It’s also impacted folks in the LGBT community’s personal lives. So my question for you gentleman is, will you support and advocate for adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s existing civil rights legislation?”

The query turned the topic of discussion to senate bills 100 and 344, both entered by Senator Travis Holdman. In their current iterations, the bills would provide various protections to members of the LGBT community, albeit differences exist. Senate bill 100 would provide gender identity and sexual orientation-based protections under the law, while also enacting exceptions for faith-based organizations such as schools. Bill 344, however, does not provide protections for transsexuals.

Buck stated he wouldn’t support the bills in their current form. During his reply, the senator said he didn’t believe discrimination was an issue in Indiana.

“It has been presented in the media and by others that Indiana is a bigoted state, that we discriminate,” said Buck. “Find examples of where that’s at. Just go find it. It’s not there. Nobody wants to discriminate, but nobody says they want to interfere with people’s ability to practice their faith. It’s a kind of conundrum. How do you make both sides happy?”

The senator continued, saying that members of the LGBT community were being treated as political pawns and that the issue of civil rights protection for members of the community was being stirred up for political ends.

“We’re in an era of political coercion, pure and simple,” said Buck. “I don’t intend to discriminate against anybody, but I also have the responsibility to know that men and women that I associate with every day have the right to believe in the God that they believe in, preach the pulpit how they want to preach, believe the scriptures they want to believe them. But when you take that away, my friends, we are going to be in a big heap of trouble. Most of this is stirred up literally by political efforts on some individuals and groups that are political. There’s always a pawn in the legislative process. I feel bad for the LGBTs in this regard. While they have legitimate issues, they are being used quite effectively.”

Buck closed in saying that currently for those seeking to protect both civil rights and religious freedoms, the situation was a “lose-lose” and that he needed to be presented a “win-win” in order to draw his support.

Those gathered showed little support of Buck’s statements. Last week’s Third House session introduced a crowd-based feedback system, which was implemented by a show of red or green cards. Red, which showed opposition to the presented viewpoint, was displayed by almost the entire audience after the senator finished speaking.

In his response, Karickhoff discussed a need for a middle ground between the issues of civil rights and the freedom of religion. The representative said he’d received little show of interest from the public in regards to the issue.

“It’s a complicated issue that ultimately requires a balance between religious freedom and civil rights,” said Karickhoff. “Hoosiers don’t tolerate discrimination, but there’s no doubt that discrimination has occurred. I’ve not heard overwhelming support or opposition for either one of these bills. I’ve been in the house, this is my sixth year, I spent two terms on the council. I know a contentious issue when I see one … This has gotten 22 form emails in my house mailbox and one phone call from a sincere person that had an interest. I’m willing to listen. I want to commend Senator Holdman for trying to get senate bill 100 through. He’s trying to find a balance between religious freedom and civil rights.”

Cook was the final speaker to address the question. The representative served as principal at Hamilton Heights and was personally responsible for admitting Ryan White to the school district amid death threats during a time when little was known about the AIDS virus that infected the youth. He said he was also searching for a middle ground on the issue of civil rights for the LGBT community.

“I’ve been through the war, and I took the stand to do that,” said Cook. “Obviously, I’m not for discrimination of any type. I’m seeking some middle grounds with that … it’s going to open up a lot of other things that a lot of other people who don’t dig deeper into the issue want to realize are going to surface.”

Recently, the representative said he’d met with various universities around the state and discussed with school officials how the impending bills would affect their organizations. He said if enacted, the legislation regarding the transgender community would create a grey area regarding bathroom and dorm policies, as well as for hiring practices.

“There are a lot of complicated issues surrounding the transgender issue,” said Cook. “I’ve had already school districts saying, ‘Wow, what are we going to do? Are we going to have to build new bathrooms? Are we going to have to remodel all the ones we have? Are we going to separate?’ I said, ‘Well, if you go back to that you’ll be back to Jim Crow laws.’ So, no, I don’t think you’ll be doing that if it passes. Those are real issues that are now starting to strike people. That it’s a lot deeper legal issue than they maybe thought.”