Bil Browning of the Bilerico Project has been following a story out of his home state of Indiana that I wanted to bring to the attention of TWO readers.
In February, Indiana issued the nation’s first specialty license plate specifically dedicated to raising awareness of LGBT youth issues. The Indiana Youth Group, an organization that “provides safe places and confidential environments where self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth are empowered through programs, support services, social and leadership opportunities and community service” and “advocates on their behalf in schools, in the community and through family support services,” had applied twice before for the plate, but its applications were denied each time. But this time was different, and so starting in February 2012, for an additional $40 surcharge on top of customary registration fees, Hoosiers could purchase a license plate featuring the IYG’s rainbow logo, with proceeds from plate sales going to support the organization’s work.
However, homophobic Republicans in the Indiana legislature wasted no time trying to deep-six the plates. They tried to pass a bill that would forbid specialty plates from being issued to organizations that “advocate for violation of federal or state law, violation of generally accepted ethical standards or societal behavioral standards.”
When that failed, they tried getting rid of the IYG plate another way: they went after the group’s contract with the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, seeking to void it on a technicality. Twenty Republican senators sent a letter of complaint about the IYG plates to the BMV: apparently, the youth group gave out low-numbered plates as thank-you gifts to major donors. While this did technically violate the state contract, the BMV’s communications director freely admitted that giving specialty plates with low numbers to big donors was a common practice to which the state traditionally turned a blind eye. (Lest anyone be tempted to give the Indiana Republicans the benefit of the doubt, Senate President Pro Tempore David Long called attacking the IYG contract another “solution” to what he clearly regarded as the problem of an LGBT-related license plate.)
Unlike their last attempt, this tactic worked and the Indiana Youth Group’s specialty license plates were revoked for violating “state law and Indiana Administrative Code.” Until that point, the IYG plate was the highest-selling specialty plate among the 10 awarded by the state of Indiana this year, selling more than twice as many plates as the next-best seller. The crackdown also resulted in two other organizations– the Greenways Foundation and the Indiana 4-H Foundation — losing their plates. But, whatever. Collateral damage in Indiana’s zealous campaign against LGBT youth, I guess.
Some, including Indiana blogger and attorney Doug Masson, speculate that the recent actions by the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles have opened the state up to a possible equal protection lawsuit. Here’s hoping that the financial resources and dedicated legal team required for such a lawsuit can be assembled in the name of Indiana LGBTs being bullied by their state.
Note: If you’re not already aware of the Bilerico Project, I’d like to encourage you to add that site to the list of LGBT websites you check each day. Bil and his contributors (in the interest of full disclosure, I am an occasional contributor myself) have created a dynamic forum for news, information, conversations, and a diversity of perspectives unlike any other place on the Internet. Bil is also a dear personal friend and a legendary activist who’s been raising hell in the name of equality since I was in the first grade. Check him — and Bilerico — out!