Economy and Government

NOTIONS: Putting human rights bill to the test

November 28, 2005

A few weeks ago, my son Zach was named a Student Rotarian by his high school in Fort Wayne. He was invited to be honored at a downtown Rotary Club luncheon in that city, and asked me to attend.

The Rotarians met on the second floor of the Summit City's downtown Holiday Inn. Zach and I went through the buffet line and sat down at a round table with the superintendent of his school system and four other Rotarians. The room was dominated by a big purpleand-gold banner. It said:

The Four-Way Test Of the things we think, say or do: Is it the TRUTH? Is it FAIR to all concerned? Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

As I studied the test, I thought how well it might work in, say, government, as elected officials weigh personal, political and policy decisions. Had Congress asked "Is it the TRUTH?" and the other three questions when told Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, would the majority of its members still have voted for war with Iraq? Had the so-called "plumbers" asked "Is it FAIR to all concerned?" and the other three questions before breaking into the Democrats' Watergate headquarters, might Richard Nixon be remembered as a great president? Had Bill Clinton asked "Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?" and the other three questions, would he still have had sexual relations with "that woman, Miss Lewinsky" and been impeached? Had Lyndon Johnson asked "Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?" and the other three questions before escalating the Vietnam War, would 58,000 Americans and countless others have died?

When I returned from Fort Wayne, I received an e-mail telling me that the Indianapolis City-County Council would try, once again, to pass an ordinance saying that our city, like countless others, will not condone discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Having a new resource fresh at hand, I decided to apply the Four-Way Test.

Is it the TRUTH?

Are people in our community discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity? Back in April, when Councilors voted 18-11 against this same ordinance, some said there wasn't a problem-at least among their constituents.

Some said there hadn't, after all, been lots of complaints filed-ignoring the fact that's it's difficult to file a complaint when there's no law under which to file it.

This time around, there appears to be plenty of evidence there's a problem.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, and Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, a Democrat, have issued executive orders saying their respective governments won't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, also a Republican, issued a similar policy statement.

If the issue's relevant for government, you can bet it's relevant in the private sector, too. What's more, where there's discrimination, it usually transcends geographic boundaries. In fact, this time around, City-County councilors who've been willing have had a chance to meet with-or at least hear from-gay and transgender constituents in their districts who say there is, in fact, a problem.

But in reality, you don't need letter-writing, meetings or testimony to recognize prejudice. Any time you hear the phrase "those people," as in, "Those people don't need a special legal class" or "I don't approve of those people," you can hold this truth to be self-evident: There's a whole lottta discriminating going on.

Is it FAIR to all concerned?

Far as I've been able to tell, anti-discrimination laws haven't hurt anyone. On the contrary, from the women's suffrage movement to the Civil Rights Act, they've simply reinforced the notion that we're all created equal and all endowed with certain inalienable rights. Being gay or having surgery on your genitals shouldn't change that.

Will it build GOODWILL and

BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?

Any law that says to any fellow human, "Hey, we love you for who you are, and we welcome your contributions to our economy and our community" should build goodwill and better friendships-"should" being the operative word here.

But conventional wisdom says anyone hell-bent on forgoing the biblical "Judge not lest ye be judged" and pushing for the preservation of prejudice probably won't be buying the next round for the Log Cabin (gay) Republicans.

Will it be BENEFICIAL to all

concerned?

Last time I read the economist Richard Florida and interviewed recruits for my company, I heard repeatedly that today's workers want diverse communities that celebrate-rather than condemn-one another's differences. That, plus basic human civility and respect, puts this legislation into the beneficial category.

So the human rights ordinance passes Four-Way muster. May we vote now or do we have to listen to lots of hate speeches first?



Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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