Ind. Conservatives Try to Put Brakes on Specialty Plate for Gay Organization

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February 18, 2012; Source: Associated Press | Conservative voices in Indiana are seeking to abolish new specialty license plates for the Indiana Youth Group, a gay support organization. One of 105 specialty plates now on sale in the Hoosier State, the “IYG” emblazonments follow the sanctioning of custom tags for gay advocacy groups in Maryland and South Carolina; the latter started issuing them beginning in 2012.

Indiana tacks on $40 for all specialty plates, with $25 of the surcharge going to the featured group. This is big business for state special interests—420,000 such plates were stamped and purchased in 2011, yielding $11 million among the wide-ranging legion of organizations. The Indiana Youth Group license plate appears with their logo and a rainbow spectrum of six hands. Other groups featured on Indiana tags include the anti-abortion Indiana Association of Pregnancy Centers and the sportsmen’s National Wild Turkey Foundation.

Advance America, a right-leaning Indiana nonprofit, is lobbying tooth and nail through the tail end of the 2012 state legislative session to ban all gay support groups from appearing within the frame of the Indiana license plate. If this were baseball, State Rep. Jeff Thompson (R-Lizton) would be out, having tried three times to codify his disdain for gay-friendly plates by burying prohibitions in unrelated bills, all of which failed to pass.  Thompson’s peers have quashed all of his attempts in neutral terms, with Indiana House Transportation Committee Chairman Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) stating, “I think there needs to be accountability and transparency and there needs to be a review.”

This tag tussle is no mere parochial game. Though perhaps a murmur amid the roar over marriage equality initiatives, the Indiana fight has drawn national attention and sparks. Christine Johnson, executive director of SC Equality, a South Carolina gay advocacy group, sees through the veil of prejudicial maneuvering by Indiana conservatives and frames the battle in constitutional terms: “I’m not surprised by what’s happening in Indiana, but I am sort of disgusted,” Johnson said. “I consider it a free speech issue.” –Louis Altman