Baptist Pastor, House Member Claims Anti-LGBT Discrimination Doesn't Exist, Says Issue Is Media-Driven
Republicans in Indiana are becoming increasingly defensive and hostile in the face of scrutiny from the media and the public over their refusal to pass legislation banning anti-LGBT discrimination.
During a town hall on Friday, state lawmakers from Elkhart County were asked whether it should be legal to fire people based on their sexual identity.
GOP Rep. Tim Wesco, a Baptist pastor, quickly grabbed the microphone and stubbornly declared that Indiana doesn't need such a law because it's legal to fire him for being straight, and because anti-LGBT discrimination doesn't exist.
"It is legal to fire me for being straight. Doesn't mean it happens," Wesco said, referring to nearby South Bend's LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance. "There have been zero verified complaints against discrimination in the city of South Bend."
According to a 2015 report from WNDU-TV, there were in fact four sexual-orientation discrimination complaints filed in the first three years after South Bend enacted its nondiscrimination law. All of the complaints were related to employment bias, and one was filed by a heterosexual person.
Meanwhile, another member of the panel, GOP Rep. Curt Nisly, said LGBT people don't deserve "collective rights" based on their "choices."
"Personal choices in sexual partners should not be elevated to a civil rights issue," -Rep. Tim Wesco. "Figures a reporter would ask this."— Alexis Gray (@AlexisG_FOX28) February 12, 2016
@AlexisG_FOX28 since when are civil rights a popularity contest? If that was the case 68 Civil Rights Act would never have passed— studioonesb (@studioonesb) February 12, 2016
When Fox 28 tried to follow up with Wesco after Friday's town hall, he brushed aside the station's camera and accused its crew of being "very, very intrusive."
"I made my statements," he said.
Indiana Competes coalition member says 65 percent of Hoosiers support expanded LGBT anti-discrimination laws pic.twitter.com/GtFaezKtM9— Alexis Gray (@AlexisG_FOX28) February 12, 2016
Matthew Straw, a representative from the pro-LGBT business coalition Indiana Competes who posed the question to the lawmakers, told Fox 28 that Wesco's statements were untrue.
"People across the state face discrimination," Straw said, adding that Wesco's decision to dodge the media after the town hall was telling. "That sends a message to me that he's not willing to have a discussion about this."
"Any organization that wants to hold a moral standard is now in danger of being called bigoted," -Wesco— Alexis Gray (@AlexisG_FOX28) February 12, 2016
According to a report on the town hall from The Elkhart Truth, Wesco also said he believes the issue of LGBT rights is “Indianapolis-driven” and media driven, adding that constituents in his district aren't clamoring about it.
“To compare this to the black civil rights movement is ridiculous,” he said. “There is not a single, verifiable case of discrimination that has occurred in Elkhart County. It is not a problem. So why are we having this discussion?”
Wesco, who serves as senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Elkhart, was an outspoken supporter of Indiana's anti-LGBT Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2015. After weeks of intense business backlash, lawmakers amended the RFRA to clarify that it doesn't sanction anti-LGBT discrimination.
Wesco has also said same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy, and his church's Doctrinal Statement compares homosexuality to bestiality and incest, calling them "sinful perversions." The church also claims God "disapproves of and forbids any attempt to alter one’s gender by surgery or appearance."
GOP Rep. Curt Nisly, also said during the town hall he believes LGBT protections are unnecessary — but for a different reason.
"LGBT are individuals," Nisly told Fox 28. "So they have individual rights. I don't think that we should have collective rights just because you make certain choices."
Image via Indiana House Republicans