March marked three years since the passing of the South Bend Human Rights Amendment. Thanks to Charlotte Pfiefer, Oliver Davis, South Bend Equality members like Catherine Pittman and many others, the city of South Bend became a safer place for LGBT residents by barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, education and public accommodations.
As Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s said: “Ultimately this is about something very simple. Is it or is it not acceptable to discriminate against employees for reasons not related to their job performance? The answer in my view and that of most Americans is no.”
Those present at one of the many meetings over the eight years it took to create and pass this amendment remember the cries of its opponents warning us of the impending negative consequences that would be inflicted upon our community if the amendment passed.
They warned our city would be forced to construct additional bathrooms everywhere to accommodate a third gender. Instead, we have local businesses such as South Bend Brew Werks move to gender-neutral single stall bathrooms, cleverly named the “Necessarium.” Additionally, thanks to Meghan Buell of the LGBT Resource Center of Michiana, South Bend is the proud home of Transgender Resource, Education & Enrichment Services which is committed to bringing knowledge of the transgender community to help educate and bring resources to local governmental and business leaders.
We were also warned that predatory men disguised as women would be lurking in women’s restrooms. Instead we have wildly successful monthly events such as Guerrilla Gay Bar where 300-plus fun-loving people gather at a local restaurant/bar in South Bend socializing, dancing, eating and drinking, bringing thousands of dollars into our economy. GGB is now regionally recognized as the monthly LGBT event to attend, drawing people from Grand Rapids, Fort Wayne, Chicago and beyond. Their dollars are being spent at our hotels, restaurants and shops. Not to mention the immeasurable value of their positive reports to friends back home as they describe the great spirit that is evident in the welcoming city of South Bend.
We were told that the ordinance was unenforceable and would result in outrageous and costly city legal battles. Instead, we now have legally-wed same-sex couples throughout South Bend who are contributing, active citizens making a difference in their community and economy without fear of losing their job or residence due to their sexual orientation. More LGBT residents are calling South Bend home when they see the affordable cost of living that is available to them in a prime vicinity. They enjoy the amenities of our budding, urban lifestyle that includes affirming churches, unique local shopping, fine museums, delicious local eateries, live music, local brews, entertaining events and all the other fantastic offerings of South Bend.
Three years later, it is clear that the warnings of those opposing human rights were little more than fearmongering designed to keep South Bend on the wrong side of history. Thanks to the affirming votes of Common Council members Tim Scott, Gavin Ferlic, Valerie Sehey, Fred Ferlic, Oliver Davis and Karen White, our city has protection in place for people like my husband and me. Without reservation, we invite our LGBT friends and allies to come experience South Bend.
The Human Rights Campaign just released its 2014 Municipal Equality Index, a nationwide evaluation of municipal law. South Bend scored 67 out of 100 tying Bloomington for second place in our state. Indianapolis scored 82. Thanks to South Bend’s amended Human Rights Ordinance we are in the top 50 percent of 353 municipalities.
The index considers many factors such as: the recognition of domestic partnerships; transgender health benefits; the existence of a LGBT liaison to city executives and law enforcement; enumerated anti-bullying policies; accurate reporting of hate crimes; openly gay elected officials; how well the city advocates for full equality and more.
Our challenge is to raise that score so we can proudly stand with the 38 cities that received a 100. My goal is for South Bend to be a model among cities leading the way to equality in our nation and to be nationally recognized as a diverse city that is open, welcoming and affirming to all people.
Joel Barrett lives in South Bend.