The Indianapolis Star this week launched an initiative to convince state political leaders to expand Indiana’s civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
In a letter sent out this week to a select group of business and community leaders, Star Publisher Karen Ferguson Fuson said: “IndyStar is preparing this fall to launch an ambitious and aggressive editorial board campaign designed to persuade the governor and state lawmakers to expand Indiana’s civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Fuson insisted the campaign will not affect the Star’s editorial integrity or impartiality.
The Star’s newsroom is structured to ensure that reporters and key editors have no involvement in decisions made by the paper’s editorial board, she said, adding that the Star’s newsgathering process remains independent from any editorial positions taken by the paper.
The letter from Fuson invited recipients to a private meeting Sept. 22 at the Star’s offices at Circle Centre Mall to discuss the issue.
“We would like to brief you on our plans for the campaign, to explain ways you and your organization can partner with us, to answer your questions, and to hear your thoughts and possible concerns,” Fuson’s letter stated.
“We believe that it is critical for all of us to work together to drive this important change and to further the recovery from damage done to our state by the [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] controversy,” the letter went on to state.
A plan for the Star to host multiple public forums to discuss the issue is being put together, Fuson told IBJ on Friday, adding that times, dates and locations for the meetings have not been finalized. Fuson anticipates the first public forum to be held late this year.
Fuson insisted the Star is not merely pulling together local civic leaders and holding public meeting to rally support for an issue the paper’s editorial board believes in.
“We want a good discussion with a broad spectrum of people,” Fuson told IBJ. “We believe people can disagree and still respect each others’ opinions.”
The reason for the initiative, Fuson said, is simple.
“As defenders of the First Amendment, this issue hits close to home for us. Fundamentally we stand against discrimination pointed at any Hoosier,” she explained. “We believe protections for all and religious freedoms can coexist.”
Fuson pointed out that the Star has a history of involvement in community and social issues, noting the paper’s initiatives to push for more efficient local government, better care for people with disabilities and better protection for abused and neglected children.
She also pointed out that the Star has advocated for statewide civil rights changes ever since Indiana lawmakers began debating passage of RFRA in March.
After Fuson’s email was leaked to several media outlets Wednesday, the Star ran an editorial Friday with the headline, "Rights for all — it’s time for Indiana to act.".
There hasn't been a universal embrace of the Star's initiative.
Ogden on Politics, a local political blog, on Thursday criticized the Star's plan. Other bloggers and politicos also took issue with the newspaper's stance.
"Ferguson Fuson shreds any semblance of journalistic ethics by expressly using her role as president and publisher of the Indianapolis Star to organize and lend assistance to one side of a public policy issue that the Star regularly reports on," Ogden wrote. "That she doesn't leave the issue on the Star's editorial pages is evidenced by her newspaper's extremely biased reporting on the RFRA and LGBT issues."
Fuson said she is not dissuaded by criticism.
“Our role is to help our community be a better place and help our community thrive,” Fuson said. “It makes sense for us to raise the dialog around this issue. At the very least, I think we can accomplish that.”
It’s too early to gauge the feedback on the Star’s plan, she added.