INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Indianapolis mayoral candidate and Republican State Sen. Jim Merritt says he will no longer march in Saturday’s Indy Pride Parade.
Following an announcement that he planned to walk in the parade, Indy Pride released a statement saying that Merritt would be “permitted” to march in the parade, but “not welcome.”
“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,” the statement read in part.
Both Indy Pride and LGBTQ+ advocacy organization GLAAD, citied Merrit’s past voting records, including his support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as cause. Many in the LGBTQ+ community viewed the law as a way to allow businesses to deny services to them.
In a press conference Thursday, the senator said he regretted voting for the legislation.
“I have come to know that we must all stand up and work together to respect and protect the rights of others. And, specifically in this case, the full rights of those in the LGBTQ+ community.” Merritt said.
Merritt added that he sat down with Indy Pride leadership to discuss his “evolved” views and how they could find a way to move forward. Despite saying the talks went well, Merritt opted not to walk in the parade to avoid being a “distraction.”
“This is Indy Pride’s celebration. I don’t want to be a distraction. I don’t want to dampen it for them,” he said.
Chris Handberg, Indy Pride’s executive director, called Merritt’s decision and press conference a “good first step,” but said the state senator would need to prove his views have changed through his actions.
“Now he has the opportunity to prove it, in whatever capacity he serves in the public or as a civil servant,” Handberg said.
Laura Wilson, an associate professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis said it was unclear how the situation would affect Merritt’s candidacy, but added that in the current age, politicians are being held to stricter standards for past actions.
“You can look at Joe Biden on the national level and Anita Hill and her testimony in terms of Clarence Thomas and his confirmation hearings. That was 30 years ago and it’s going to haunt him if he can’t prove he’s not just saying he’s changed, but that he’s actually changed… That’s the big challenge with politicians now, we want to see them evolve, but we want to see proof it’s not just pandering,” Wilson said.
If elected, Merritt says he will fight for the LGBTQ+ community and create an Indy Diversity Department to support all disadvantaged people.