Indianapolis Republican mayoral candidate Jim Merritt said he still plans to walk in this weekend’s Indy Pride Parade despite being told by local organizer Indy Pride that he is not welcome at the event due to his past record of conservative votes.
Merritt said in a written statement Tuesday that he plans to walk in the parade “as a private citizen, not as a candidate for mayor” and that “my intention for walking in the pride parade is to show others that, over time, my opinions have progressed and theirs can as well.”
Campaign spokeswoman April Gregory said “there are multiple organizations and friends that have invited him to walk with him.”
But Indy Pride told IBJ shortly after Merritt’s statement was issued that they spoke to the longtime state senator and “reiterated that he was not welcome at the Indy Pride Parade and Festival.”
“A distinction was made between being ‘welcome’ and ‘permitted,’” Indy Pride organizer Chris Handberg said. “Those who have registered for the Pride Parade are permitted to choose their participants. If a group chooses to invite Jim Merritt to walk with them, as a private citizen, that is their choice. It was expressed that, based on his anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and voting record, he would not be welcome by Indy Pride or the majority of the community.”
Handberg said the group asked Merritt to release a statement detailing support for the LGBTQ+ community, and called on him to “express his change in beliefs publicly and specifically.”
In Merritt’s statement, he said “I own every vote that I have made in the legislature but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t learned along the way and that I would make the same votes today. As mayor of Indianapolis, my constituency would be different than it has been in my Senate district. I will represent all citizens of Indianapolis.”
Merritt, a state senator since 1991 and former Marion County Republican Party chairman, said he supports LGBTQ+ rights, and pointed out that he voted for hate crimes legislation this year.
"At that time, I said on the Senate floor, we must not leave doubt that Indiana welcomes all," Merritt said in the statement. "This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s a human rights issue. We must condemn hate by demonstrating how we love one another. I look forward to an ongoing conversation with Indy Pride Inc. and other LGBTQ+ groups."
The hate crimes bill that Merritt mentioned, however, was not supported by Indy Pride, Handberg said, because it "intentionally excludes trans and non-binary members of our community.”
When asked by IBJ whether Merritt regrets his vote for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015, which critics—including some of Indiana’s largest companies and business groups—said would make it legal for people to discriminate under the protection of religious freedom, his campaign declined to respond.
RFRA was amended within week's of its initial signing after an outcry from business, tourism and other groups.
This year's Indy Pride downtown parade runs Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. Indy Pride drew more than 30,000 attendees a year ago.