Monday March 3, 2014
The gay community in Elkhart County isn't too terribly visible, not to the general public, anyway.
That doesn't mean it's non-existent.
I spoke to three reps from the area community — Chad Crabtree, Rob Van Ess and Lynn Young — for their take on the concluded-for-now debate in the Indiana legislature on the proposal to ban gay marriage (look here for that story). Along the way, they offered some observations on the area gay community.
There are "pockets" here in Elkhart Community, said Crabtree, a recruitment counselor at Indiana University South Bend who lives in Elkhart. But the gay community keeps a fairly low profile.
"I know some gays, but I don't know them all. I think they're there, just more quiet, under the radar," he said. He lived for a time in Richmond, Va., and the community there was larger and more accepted, "which I thoroughly miss."
Crabtree, Democratic candidate for the Osolo Township trustee spot, broached the notion of having a Guerrilla Gay Bar event in Elkhart, picking a night spot and inviting the gay community to show up, en masse, as is done periodically in South Bend (look here). "Wouldn't that be a hoot?" he said.
'THERE'S ALWAYS A RISK'
Van Ess, pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ here in Elkhart, says the gay community here is quiet, he suspects because the area is relatively conservative. If you publicly self-identify as gay, he said, "there's always a risk" it may jeopardize your job or, if you have children, potentially subject them to adverse treatment. He married his partner in a civil ceremony.
Young, from Walkerton, echoed Van Ess' observations. She attends Van Ess' church here and works an instructor at IUSB in South Bend.
The gay community in Elkhart County "isn't as robust as it could be," she said.
Gay people run a risk being too upfront and generating backlash from others, so they regularly have to make a mental calculation about how open they can be depending on the particular circumstances of the moment, keeping quiet if necessary. Young married her partner in Massachusetts a year and a half ago and though she doesn't feel at risk, she avoids public displays of affection.
"There is a mental thing that goes on. Is it safe?" she said. "It's kind of crappy that I should have to."
The recent debate over House Joint Resolution 3, the proposal to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, precluding gay marriage, helped generate perhaps of measure of more tolerance for gays, she said. On the other hand, it also gave rise to the voices of those on the other side of the spectrum, too.
HJR 3 will likely come up for debate again by Indiana lawmakers in 2015 or 2016. Presuming they approve the measure as they did earlier in the current session, it would go to voters for final consideration in the November 2016 vote.
Seven of the eight lawmakers representing portions of Elkhart County in the Indiana House and Senate voted for HJR 3.
Tim Vandenack is a reporter at the Elkhart Truth newspaper. Reach him at email@example.com or 574-296-5884. Visit him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack.