Indiana’s Anti-LGBT Discrimination:

A Fascist Law, a Storm of Protest

April 6, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


The past week has seen a national storm erupt over the state of Indiana passing a fascist so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA). The RFRA—and laws like it around the country—is aimed, despite the lamest and most transparent claims of some of its backers, at promoting discrimination and persecution of LGBT people, and at shoring up all kinds of bigotry, prejudice and oppression rooted in fundamentalist Christianity. Specifically, these RFRA laws are aimed stopping cities and towns from enacting laws that provide any protection for LGBT people against discrimination—in a nation where, overwhelmingly, there are no such laws.

An Invitation

The outrage and protest against the RFRA was righteous, and necessary! It forced the powers-that-be in Indiana to step back a bit, to try to cover their asses, and make some concessions. In Indiana, the law was amended so that cities and towns can pass ordinances prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination—and the handful of cities that have such laws can keep them in force. And it pushed the issue of discrimination against LGBT people into the public eye.

The marches and other protests in Indiana come at a time when big questions are up in society, including rapid changes in public opinion favoring equality for LGBT people—and in the context of a new mood in society brought about to a significant degree by the uprising against the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the murder and grand jury exoneration of the cop who killed Eric Garner in New York, and the waves of protest that followed. Recent outpourings of protest at Duke University against a lynching noose on campus, in Madison, Wisconsin, against police murder of an unarmed 19-year-old Black youth, and at the University of Virginia in response to the brutal beating of a Black student are signs of the times.

As Bob Dylan sang back in the '60s, the times are a changin’. What erupted in Indiana is part of that mosaic. But the forces of the old order are not getting out of the way. The Christian fascists are lashing back viciously against gay rights. Other ruling class forces are posing as great defenders of enlightenment but have, themselves, carried out great crimes against humanity here and around the world. The struggle that erupted needs to continue.

* * *

In spite of recent changes in law and significant changes in attitudes, discrimination and prejudice against LGBT people remains deeply embedded in this society.

The situation for LGBT youth today is rarely examined by mainstream media, but when it is, a painful and terrible picture emerges of persecution, isolation and fear (see “Same-Sex Marriage: A Basic Right, A Just Demand," the section titled: The Real Situation for LGBT People in the USA”).

And despite a positive phenomenon of entertainers and other prominent people coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, vast sections of society, including sports, are still extremely hostile terrain.

Brittney Griner is widely regarded as on her way to being the best player ever in women's basketball. She wrote an article in the New York Times (5/5/13) in which she poignantly described the torment she has been subjected to since she was a young girl, and continues to receive for not fitting into gender-role stereotypes and openly discussing being a lesbian. "People called me a dude and said there was no way I could be a woman. Some even wanted me to prove it to them. During high school and college, when we traveled for games, people would shout the same things while also using racial epithets and terrible homophobic slurs. (That's nothing compared with the horrendous things people call me online today—if you don't believe me, look at the comments about me on Twitter and Instagram.)

"No one deserves to go through that type of abuse. When I was young, I put on a face as if it didn't hurt, but it's painful to be called hateful names and made fun of because people thought my feet were huge or that I looked like a guy. It was hard to hear antigay slurs under their breath whenever I walked by them."

So in that light, what does it mean that in the United States, in 2015, some 20 states (including Indiana) either passed or are considering laws that ban cities or towns from passing ordinances prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people?

Bigotry and Discrimination in the Form of “Religious Freedom”

In 1993, a national Religious Freedom Restoration Act, sponsored by the Democrats, passed Congress almost unanimously and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. In the name of “restoring freedom of religion,” this became a legal foundation for a reactionary assault on separation of church and state, and it immediately became clear that this was the purpose. It had the effect of whipping up, legitimizing, and strengthening Christian fascist influence in society.

A major milestone in the process of empowering and feeding Christian fascists was when in 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act. That law allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states.

The RFRA and other moves to expand the “right” of Christian fundamentalists to impose their women-hating, patriarchal beliefs on others took extreme expression and took a leap with the Supreme Court ruling in the infamous “Hobby Lobby” case in 2014. The majority of the Court invoked the RFRA to rule that religious rights apply to a corporation, and ruled that the Hobby Lobby chain of stores could deny medical insurance coverage for some forms of birth control for women employees, based on Christian fundamentalist beliefs. That ruling was an outrage in its own right, and with ominous implications.

Today, the rush to pass RFRA laws around the country is clearly—and overtly—a backlash at least in part against moves to legalize same-sex marriage, and in some places to pass laws that at least recognize formal equality for LGBT people. But it is also more than that—and even worse. In a recent article in Time, former NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put it this way about Indiana’s RFRA: “At its core, rather than being a monument to justice, RFRA is a step towards establishing an American version of Shari’a law.” And he goes on to say RFRA supporters “are attempting to punish those who don’t follow their own very specific interpretation of God’s teaching.”

And that “very specific interpretation of God’s teaching” is a literal, fascist interpretation of the Bible—a vicious imposition of “traditional American values” that not only persecute LGBT people but force women into total subservience to men, and has historically been a bulwark of white supremacy.

The Storm of Protest

5 Stops

In response to the passage of the RFRA in Indiana, thousands of people took to the streets in protest, and appropriate outrage burst out far and wide. A reader who has been following the protests wrote to with a survey of some of the actions:

“As soon as the bill was signed, protests and opposition to the law broke out. A large protest of thousands took place on March 28 in Indianapolis at the State Building. People were chanting, ‘No hate in our state.’ A woman had a sign, 'I want to live in a state that does not discriminate.' The protest was organized by a Carmel, Indiana mom, Annette Gross, who started a Facebook page calling for the protest. She said she had hoped for 100 people to show up. She said, ‘I don’t like to say we are going to do this or do that,' but when she saw the thousands in the street, she said, 'But, we got ‘em.’ Other smaller protests have been held in downtown Indianapolis throughout the week.”

Ashton Kutcher, Star Trek actor George Takei, Larry King, and James Van Der Beek came out against this law. Miley Cyrus called Indiana Governor Pence an "asshole" on Instagram. Parks and Recreation actor Nick Offerman said that he was scrapping a scheduled stop in Indianapolis as part of his 2015 summer tour.

The Ugly Agenda Behind the RFRA

Some of those behind the RFRA, like Indiana Governor Mike Pence, claim this law is not about discrimination. They’re lying.

Eric Miller, founder of a Christian fascist organization—Advance America—was quoted in the NY Times saying: “The proposed change to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not a ‘fix’ but a hammer to destroy religious freedom…” The Times article did not note that Miller sent out emails to churches urging them to oppose attacks on the RFRA because “Christian bakers, florists and photographers would now be forced by the government to participate in a homosexual wedding or else they would be punished by the government! That’s not right!”

When asked by reporters to refute that assertion, Pence—who orchestrated the amendment—refused to directly address it, saying only: "This law does not give anyone license to discriminate.” He said LGBT rights is “not on my agenda. I think it's a completely separate question. I mean, we are talking about the religious freedom restoration act… That's where I want to stay focused."

And dark-ages ghouls like Miller worked closely with Pence to push through the RFRA. Miller and others like him were invited to a special private signing ceremony for the bill when Pence originally signed it into law.

Behind the Opposition to the RFRA from Apple, Walmart, NASCAR and Others

As noted, the protests and outrage over the RFRA in Indiana erupted in the context of important changes in the national mood. There is an emerging spirit of refusing to put up with oppression.

In the context of this mood of defiance and other factors (including the image of the U.S. around the world), some ruling class forces weighed in in opposing at least parts of the RFRA. Tim Cook—the openly gay head of Apple—came out against the law. NASCAR (the National Association for Stock Car Racing) declared, “We will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance. We are committed to diversity and inclusion within our sport and therefore will continue to welcome all competitors and fans at our events in the state of Indiana and anywhere else we race.” The head of Walmart said a RFRA law passed the same week in Arkansas “threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.” And a number Democratic Party spokespeople, including at MSNBC, spoke out against Indiana’s RFRA. So did some Republicans.

Apple builds its shiny gadgets in Chinese sweatshops where in 2010 alone, 14 workers committed suicide to protest inhuman hours, pay, and prison-like living conditions. NASCAR is a major promoter of the ugliest, most male chauvinist culture and has had only a handful of Black drivers in its history. Walmart is a major exploiter of sweatshop labor, a major backer of attacks on public education and immigrants, a major supporter of opponents of women’s rights and civil rights, and as recently as 2008 funded an initiative in Arkansas that would prevent gay and lesbian families from serving as adoptive or foster families.

Regardless of the individual feelings of any of the capitalists who sit on the boards of these entities, inequality, exploitation, and the enforcement of that is built into their operating systems. The “bottom line” for their rule is their militarized police forces, their massive spy networks, their draconian repressive laws, and mass incarceration. But they also need the allegiance of at least significant sections of people. And in that light, the opposition to the RFRA from forces like NASCAR, Apple and Walmart, etc., is driven by their perceptions of the necessity they face in maintaining the system of capitalism-imperialism in rocky and tumultuous times. (For a concise and highly relevant insights into these contradictions, see BAsics 3:10.)

And overall, when representatives of the ruling class present themselves as friends of movements against injustice—they do so ultimately to defuse the struggle. A whole article could be written on crimes against humanity carried out by the Democrats. When it served their perception of their own interests, and those of the whole system they serve, the Democrats posed as champions of abortion rights. Where are they now? Conciliating ground by the mile, talking about how we “all” want fewer abortions, while abortion access hangs by a thread.

The “Fix”

In direct response to protest and opposition, the Indiana legislature adopted changes to the state’s RFRA. Significantly, for the first time in Indiana’s history, those changes specifically identify “sexual orientation” as a factor in discrimination, stating the law “does not: (1) authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or United States military services.”

However, only a handful of cities in Indiana have laws that prohibit discrimination against LGBT people.

The South Bend Voice summed up: “The bill does not add sexual orientation or gender identity to the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Essentially, the changes in the law return Indiana to the previous status quo where gays and lesbians could be denied service, fired from their job, and refused housing in most of the state — except in communities like South Bend and Indianapolis, which have ordinances on the books that ban discrimination. Rather than explicitly allowing discrimination, Indiana is once again tacitly allowing it.” (4/2/15)

And so it remains a reality that in most of Indiana and in most of the United States, LGBT people have no protection against discrimination. Employers can fire a person simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning! This is outrageous in its own right, and the present situation feeds a culture where LGBT people are dehumanized, victimized, and terrorized.

A Culture Clash in a Society Coming Apart at the Seams

Even as the “fix” to the Indiana law is not close to a full remedy to discrimination against LGBT people, hardcore Christian fascists who were the driving force behind the RFRA find the amendments unacceptable. They are whipping up their fanatic and lunatic social base with cries that the changes to the RFRA “destroy religious freedom protection in Indiana" (Eric Miller).

These Christian fascist forces, and the powers-that-be behind them, see the undermining of the traditional, viciously patriarchal family as weakening a pillar of a whole setup and set of values they insist must be imposed on all society. These Christian fascists oppose all birth control and demand the overturn of Roe v. Wade. They are the right wing of the Republican Party, which increasingly is a party of unabashed, unapologetic white supremacy.

That whole package needs to be opposed by everyone who doesn’t want to live in a society, and a world, of white supremacy, of dark-ages prejudice, persecution of women, LGBT people, and those who in any way question or diverge from “normal” as defined by a literal interpretation of the Bible. And more (including denying science and climate change).

There should be no let-up in exposure, outrage and protest as long as LGBT people are discriminated against, victimized, and vilified in law and societal culture. And, to those entering into political life around this battle: Now that you’ve opened your eyes to this injustice, extend your vision to confront a whole world of oppression. Do not accept that some oppression is OK. Settle for nothing less than a world where differences between people are cherished, not used to persecute, subjugate, or relegate anyone to being less than human. Take a stand against what the U.S. does to people around the world with its invasions and drones. Refuse to accept the mass incarceration of millions and the epidemic of police murder of Black and Latino people. Don’t let anyone tell you to accept that women should be subservient to men, even to the extent of being denied the right to choose whether or not to have a child. Instead: fight for a world free of all oppression.


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