INDIANAPOLIS – Ind. Sen. Jim Merritt, the Republican candidate for mayor of Indianapolis, said Thursday he will not attend the IndyPride parade on Saturday, and that he regrets his vote for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015.
Merritt held a press conference to address recent controversy over his votes in the Indiana Senate regarding the LGBTQ+ community.
He had planned to attend the parade as a private citizen, but IndyPride said he was not welcome, due to his voting history. Merritt could still attend – nobody could remove him from the event. But Thursday he said he wanted to respect the wishes of those who organize and participate in the event.
“My desire to march with friends and neighbors in the IndyPride parade was my way of saying I value every member of our community,” Merritt said Thursday. “It was meant to show that I respect the feelings and rights of the LGBTQ+ community and desire to engage in dialogue with them and to serve them as our mayor. However, one must also respect another’s wishes. This is IndyPride’s celebration and I do not wish to dampen it.”
Merritt also said he first believed RFRA would be a “shield to protect the aggrieved,” but later learned it could be used as a “sword against members of the LGBTQ+ community.”
He did not say when he changed his mind on RFRA, and did not answer media questions after the press conference.
Merritt also introduced four measures he would work toward as mayor of Indianapolis:
- Work with the state legislature and governor to seek and ensure hate crimes protections for transgender and non-binary people
- Recruit LGBTQ+ people to city leadership positions
- Work with state legislators and the governor to pass employment, housing and public accommodation protections for LGBTQ+ people.
- Create an Indianapolis Diversity Department to support disadvantaged people
Chris Handberg, the executive director of IndyPride, said the organization appreciates Merritt’s decision to not participate in the events this weekend.
“The voting record that we saw really sent a message to our community that we aren’t welcome in Indiana,” Handberg said. “It caused a lot of pain, a lot of hurt to real people. These weren’t just abstract votes. These were things that really impacted our community. For us to say, ‘We don’t want you to participate in our pride parade.’ The pride parade, the festival is a sacred time for us. It’s the one time a year where we can be together as a community.”
Handberg said he spoke with Merritt about the steps he could take to repair the relationship between him and the LGBTQ+ community.
“It was a good first step,” Handberg said. “He absolutely listened to our feedback. He listened to our suggestions.”