by Brad Jacklin
I am certain I said it more than once. I made the promise to myself and to my family – I would never move back to Indiana or Indianapolis. Then life happened. And Indianapolis changed. Or I changed. Probably both.
For the better part of the last 13 years I have been an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families. I worked for large and small advocacy organizations like the Human Rights Campaign. I was the first-ever Executive Director of the bipartisan Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. I served HIV positive clients in legal aid, many of whom identified as part of the LGBT community. Before all of that, I was a Hoosier.
After leaving Indianapolis as a full-time resident in 1999 and moving out of Indiana entirely in 2003, I drove back into the state at the beginning of May, a day after my thirty-fifth birthday. It took me a while, but with encouragement from my boyfriend, I realized that Indianapolis is the place where I am happiest; a place where I can live and work; and a place where, hopefully, we can grow our family.
Washington, DC, Northern California, and Portland, Oregon were more or less liberal bastions that fit in well with my personal belief system – generally socially progressive or libertarian with a strong tradition of civically-minded residents who valued things like public transportation, quality primary education for all students, and fun, interesting amenities.
I have great memories from all of the places I’ve lived around the country, but I always felt unsettled. The streets, stores, even the stoplights never felt familiar.
Every time we were in Indy for a visit, we had a blast. I filled our schedule so full with friends and family that we felt like we never rested. When we started exploring the changing downtown neighborhoods, we found that we loved the new places, as well as tried-and-true-favorites. We saw progress on things like the Cultural Trail — something that didn’t exist anywhere else.
We found something new and exciting that appealed to us. It was a new Indianapolis, and yet, still the same familiar, welcoming place I had known my whole life. We were hooked and needed only the right opportunity.
And then RFRA happened. Setting aside the utility of the law and any legitimate thinking behind it, a national negative spotlight was on my home state, and it hurt me. I watched from Washington, DC, and I hated what was happening. I grew up in Indianapolis. I spent summer weekends in the north at Lake Wawasee. I went to school in the south at IU-Bloomington. I had come to love the state and its Capital City as an adult. The state and its people being portrayed on national television, being discussed on social media weren’t the state or people I knew. It was a caricature of both.
It was time to come back. And yes, now, of all possible times, was absolutely the best time to do it. My home was hurt, and I wanted to do something to help heal it. Life is funny. As soon as that decision was made in our minds, an opportunity materialized. Indy’s Mayor and I have different backgrounds and come from different political parties, but we both love the city and its people. We know their collective potential.
Indianapolis has grown up since I left and it continues its march forward. Neighborhoods are changing. Innovation is creating economic opportunity and growth. The city is attracting people – tech savvy young people like me – by offering amenities like the Pacers Bikeshare and BlueIndy. We are arriving to find a city that welcomes us and embraces us as neighbors, as workforce talent, and as engaged citizens who will help keep Indianapolis progressing forward.
I’m excited to be back in Indianapolis and to be a part of its future. The Mayor graciously suggested I not mention his name in this article to protect myself. It’s been a longtime since I lived in a closet and I’m not about to start again now. Indianapolis isn’t a partisan issue, and I’m proud to work with Mayor Ballard on behalf of the city as he finishes what he started in 2008. I’ll be here in January 2016 if the next Mayor wants me.
Brad Jacklin is the Press Secretary for Mayor Greg Ballard.