State Government and Government & Economic Development and Government and Law and Philanthropy

Gay-youth advocacy to fight for Indiana plate's return

March 21, 2012

An Indiana gay-youth advocacy group said it will seek legal help and fight to keep its specialty license plate despite opposition from lawmakers and conservative activists.

Indiana Youth group director Mary Byrne told The Associated Press that the organization's board decided Tuesday night to explore its legal options but hoped to avoid a lawsuit. She said she has been contacted by numerous Indiana lawyers looking to represent her group, but declined to give out their names.

"It took a long time to get the plates and we are not planning on letting go of them easily," Byrne said in a statement Wednesday.

The state Bureau of Motor Vehicles announced last week that the youth group lost its right to have specialty license plates by trading low-digit plates for contributions. That came after 20 Republican state senators complained to the agency about the group's handling of the plate.

The group maintains it is a common practice among Indiana's some 100 organizations with specialty plates to give out low-numbered plates as thank-you gifts.

Indiana nonprofits can receive $25 out of every $40 a motorist spends on a specialty plate. In 2011, the state sold more than 420,000 such plates, netting more than $11 million for nonprofits.

Some lawmakers who said there were too many specialty plates worked on an overhaul that would have eliminated the youth group's plate and several others, but the youth group claimed it was the real target. The bill was scrapped after its sponsor said the debate had become too political.

Just before the end of the session, 20 Republican senators signed a letter to the BMV asking for an investigation of the youth group's plate, then last week the BMV announced it was dropping the plate, along with plates for the Greenways Foundation and the Indiana 4-H Foundation.

Eric Miller, founder of Advance America, one of the conservative groups that lobbied lawmakers behind the scenes to ban the youth group's license plate, accused the group of promoting sex between children as young as 12.

"What they do with little children is illegal and immoral," Miller told the AP Wednesday.

"That is an outright lie," Byrne said when asked about Miller's accusations. The group holds classes talking about safe sex, relationships and dating, but does not talk about sex acts themselves or promote sexual relationships, she said. Byrne added that her group asks for parental consent from all children who attend its classes.

But Miller said he and many lawmakers believe that a private group should not be discussing sex at all with children as young as 12. One class that the youth group put on about promoting safe sex particularly angered lawmakers, he said.

The youth group said revenue from the license plates funds programming for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth around the state.

"It's more than just a plate or revenue," Byrne said in the youth group's statement. "Many leaders send LGBT youth the message that they are somehow less than. The plate is one way, a visible sign that support is out there."

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