Nena Strickland’s family demonstrated for civil rights in the 1960s.
Now, she said, it’s her turn to fight for what’s right. In this case, it’s protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"I know what injustice feels like," said Strickland, who is black. "As a state and as a country, we must learn to accept each other’s differences."
The broker with Century Homes Realty has joined with more than 200 businesses statewide as members of Indiana Competes, a coalition based in Indianapolis. Their goal is to persuade lawmakers to give protected-class status to lesbian, gay and transgender people. That would make it illegal to discriminate against them in housing, hiring and public accommodations, which includes selling cakes for same-sex weddings, for example. Currently, Indiana extends such protections to people based on race, gender, national origin and other factors.
Indiana Competes officials were in Fort Wayne on Tuesday, the seventh stop on a seven-city tour to launch the nonprofit organization that will lobby state legislators during the session that begins Jan. 5.
Republican and Democratic legislators have differing approaches to addressing the issue, based on bills set to be debated. Their challenge will be to craft a compromise.
Indiana Competes, a nonpartisan organization, is focusing on economic development implications rather than the social aspect of the legislation.
"This campaign is not to demonize anybody, their views and their beliefs," said Strickland, who described herself as a Christian.
The lack of legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people hurts the state in the areas of talent recruitment, employee retention and creating livable communities, said Peter Hanscom, Indiana Competes initiative manager. He spoke during a news conference at 816 Pint & Slice pizzeria downtown.
The coalition formed just three weeks ago and is growing quickly, he said. High-profile employers that have signed on include Anthem, AT&T, Cummins Inc., Dow AgroSciences, Eli Lilly & Cos. and Pacers Sports & Entertainment.
Hanscom was joined Tuesday by Strickland and local business owners Tim Borne, CEO of Asher Agency; Tony Henry, owner of Deer Park Irish Pub; and Fort Wayne City Council President John Crawford.
Borne is hopeful that the General Assembly can quickly reach consensus so it can tackle more pressing issues, including allocating money for crumbling bridges.
"Let’s get this thing fixed early in the session," he said.
Henry, brother of Mayor Tom Henry, didn’t hesitate when he was asked to participate in the news conference.
As a pub owner, Tony Henry is privy to a lot of private conversations. Based on those, he believes millennials strongly support such legal protections.
And so does he.
"When we suppress folks’ desires to be recognized and validated, we regress," Henry said. Progress, he added, comes from acceptance and inclusion. "As my brother, Tom, often says, let’s keep moving forward."