Sides remain divided on LGBT rights ahead of session

Advocates on both sides of Indiana's debate over the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents remained divided and were unable to make recommendations Tuesday to a committee of lawmakers considering the topic ahead of the upcoming legislative session.

Lawmakers sought public input on the possibility of adding LGBT civil rights protections into state law after failed efforts to do so last session. Lawmakers began considering the issue after Indiana faced strong opposition to a religious freedom law that critics said would lead to discrimination against gay people.

Advocates of LGBT rights want to make it illegal to deny housing, jobs or service because of sexual orientation or gender. But opponents say that would deny their religious rights by essentially forcing them to condone same-sex marriage.

With no apparent middle ground Tuesday, committee chairman and Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, said the panel wasn't likely to return to the topic any time soon and would watch how the issue plays out in the courts.

Roughly 50 people attended the hearing, where most of the conversation involved the use of public bathrooms, a topic that has become a national flashpoint.

Earlier this month, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Obama administration's directive for school districts on allowing transgender students to use the bathroom facilities corresponding with their gender identity.

"Transgender people just want to use the bathroom like anyone else," Korvin Bothwell, a transgender man, said at the hearing. "I've been using public bathrooms all my life, and nothing has happened."

But opponents raised issues of safety, including the potential of male predators lying about their gender identity to gain access to women's bathrooms.

"My rights and my privileges are not protected, and are being eroded every day," said Janet Smith, who is Christian.

Some lawmakers were frustrated by the lack of progress.

"I didn't come here today to talk about bathroom facilities," said Rep. Linda Lawson, a Hammond Democrat.

State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said little new was discussed, which would likely stall possible legislation.

Last session, the Senate stopped a debate over extending civil rights protections to gay Indiana residents, with certain religious exemptions. Protections for transgender people weren't included.

The debate was led by Republicans after widespread opposition to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which appeared to some as an allowance for religious business owners to discriminate against LGBT people.

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