FIRST PERSON: Mike Pence’s RFRA forever damaged my state

February 1, 2017

Guest post by Ben Yoder, an educator from Vice President Mike Pence's home state of Indiana.

When Mike Pence was chosen to be Donald Trump’s running mate during last year’s presidential campaign, the moment was very bittersweet. On one hand, I was elated that the man who signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and turned the clock back on my home state’s progress would soon be out of office. On the other hand, I was terrified at the possibility of this horrific governor becoming our nation’s vice president.

I’ve been a Hoosier all my life. I spent my childhood in Goshen; I went to college at Ball State University in Muncie; and now I am honored to be a teacher in Fishers – a suburban city just outside of Indianapolis. No matter where I have called home, though, I’ve always gone about my day with one eye looking over my shoulder because I am a gay, African-American man. 

When Mike Pence shoved RFRA through the state legislature and signed it into law, my fears that I would experience open discrimination overwhelmingly grew. I was afraid my well-being would be in jeopardy. There was a fear that my friends would be put in harm’s way, all because Mike Pence put his personal, discriminatory agenda ahead of the people of our state.

But then something happened that I knew the people of our state had in us – we all fought back.

Local businesses boycotted the law by using blue “This Business Serves Everyone” stickers to indicate that everyone was welcome in their store. The Indianapolis Star, a conservative newspaper, ran a front page editorial demanding the governor to “Fix This Now.” Finally, thousands of Hoosiers rallied outside the Statehouse, in the cold, to send a message that discrimination against others was not the Hoosier way.

Our resistance paid off. Opinions changed, and Mike Pence was on the verge of losing his reelection. That is, until Donald Trump selected him as his VP nominee and saved him from his inevitable defeat at the ballot box.

But now, Mike Pence’s anti-LGBTQ agenda is on the cusp of being unleashed on the rest of the nation. Indeed, what he could ultimately not do in Indiana, he is now in a position to do to the country. Though he says he will protect all of us, speculation is rampant that President Trump will announce a new executive order against LGBTQ Americans, and you can bet that Vice President Pence is in the driver’s seat. Such an order would use the guise of “religious freedom” to proactively discriminate against LGBTQ Americans across America when it comes to adoption, housing, business, and may even be used to roll back our progress on marriage.

I’m afraid for the entire LGBTQ family, because this new order could expose the community to more hate and discrimination.  These laws and policies aren’t just wrong; they are un-American. I beg you to look no further than what happened in the Hoosier State to know that this is the wrong direction for our country.

Ben Yoder is a public school music teacher in Indiana.  Now in his tenth year of teaching, Ben works with middle school music students in a suburban school district near Indianapolis. A native of Goshen, Ben received his undergraduate degree in Music Education and Violin Performance from Ball State University.  He is active in the Indiana Music Education Association, American String Teachers Association, and the Indiana State Teachers Association/ National Education Association.