Indiana Youth Group is a social advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth that has been around since 1987. They provide lots of important services to help young LGBT people in Indiana, including counseling and social services for at risk youth, advocacy on their behalf in schools, and health education. IYG has been a big part of the lives of several generations of LGBT folks. I was a part of IYG when I was young, as was Zach Adamson, our esteemed city-county council member, business owner and the first openly gay men to be elected to public office in Indiana.
IYG’s executive director is Mary Byrne, a pillar of the LBGT community for decades. She was the producer of the National Women’s Music Festival for years, and also owned Outword Bound, the LBGT bookstore where Stephanie and I met. Mary was also my landlady for five years, which is why I have personal reason to know IYG is in strong, safe, competent hands. The organization has done good work in Indiana for decades, and like other youth advocacy non-profit organizations, they seek out important sources of fundraising from the community.
A few years ago, IYG applied for the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles Specialty Plates program. This program is a win-win for the state of Indiana and for non-profit organizations. They produce specialty plates at a low cost, and members of the non-profit and their communities can promote the plates and receive part of the revenue, with the rest of the profit benefiting Indiana. Specialty plates have become an important part of fundraising for non-profit organizations, and an important revenue source for Indiana as well.
IYG had to fight to get accepted into the program – they were initially denied entrance into the program by arbitrary changes in the requirements and a lack of transparency about what the requirements were, and IYG had to go to court to get accepted. It became clear during the legal fight that the BMV’s lack of transparency and arbitrary rule changes were based on homophobia. IYG’s acceptance into the program ended up making national headlines.
Unfortunately, IYG’s new specialty plate didn’t sit well with homophobic people in Indiana, and especially not with homophobic members of the the Indiana State Legislature, who immediately began seeking ways to prevent plates from being issued beyond the first year, and began drafting legislation to alter the way that specialty plates were issued, hoping exclude IYG in future years. Homophobes eventually struck gold, canceling IYG’s ability to issue plates based on another lack of transparency in the rules – organizations were not allowed to issue number plates to organization members who had given them support; something that is a regular practice among non-profits. In addition to canceling IYG’s plates, two other organizations, The Indiana Greenways Foundation and the Indiana 4-H Foundation also had their plates canceled for the same reason. Both organizations believe they were just caught in the homophobic crossfire. Karen Bohn, head of the Greenways Foundation, said she believed the real target was the gay youth group. “I think we were just collateral damage,” she said. “Unfortunately it doesn’t seem very fair.”
All three organizations were in negotiations with the BMV to have their plates reinstated when this past week, those negotiations were abruptly canceled by the BMV, who cited the state legislature’s new licensing commission, run by the state legislature, who will be the final approval for specialty plates. Under the new commission rules, Greenways and 4-H will probably get their specialty plates back, but even state legislatures admit that IYG will be denied due to homophobia:
“It depends on the committee makeup,” [Valparaiso Republican Rep. Ed] Soliday said. “I’d be disingenuous if I didn’t say there are some legislators who are very, very anti-IYG. I tried to separate the legislation from IYG for two years, and there were other folks who constantly wanted to drag it back in.”