Dear Columbus, Indiana,
The Columbus Indiana Philharmonic’s ‘Salute’ is a yearly Memorial Day weekend concert that takes place on the lawn beside the town’s courthouse and veteran’s memorial. This year would have been my third time as featured soloist at the event, singing a concert of patriotic pieces with the full symphony. The two thousand people who gather annually to enjoy and sing along include fellow Hoosiers, as well as soldiers from Camp Atterbury, a military training camp for the Indiana National Reserve.
The Columbus Indiana Philharmonic, its conductor, David Bowden, and this Memorial Day concert have been crucial to my development as an artist. However, this year I have decided to bow out of ‘Salute.’ I prepared for the concert with great duty and pride, for the Philharmonic, the soldiers of Camp Atterbury, and my home state of Indiana. When I learned that Governor Mike Pence would be participating in the event, it was these same values: responsibility and respect for my state that led me to question my own participation. As an Indiana native who is bisexual, Pro-Choice, and the descendant of immigrants who fled hardship in their country of origin, my participation in an event that places Governor Pence on a pedestal would be dishonest, anathema to my values.
I am bisexual because I love a woman and have loved men before. I am Pro-Choice because I believe that a woman should have sovereignty over her body. I know first-hand the isolation that comes from having an abortion, despite the fact that one out of every three women in the United States has an abortion by the time she is 45. These are parts of myself I am able to share out loud because I live in this country at this current time. Until recently in America I might have been scared to go out in public with the person that I love. Until recently in America I might have had to sneak in and out of the back room of a house to have an unsafe abortion. I and individuals like me are only afforded the opportunity to speak with such candor because others took politics personally and did not acquiesce in the face of legislation and politicians who tried to marginalize them.
Yet even now these rights are tenuous and cannot be taken for granted. Today, more than half of the people that identify as LGBTQ live in states that allow employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Indiana is one of these states. Today, many state governments are making access to safe abortions more difficult. Indiana is one of these states. Today, in the thick of the largest refugee crisis since WWII many state governments refuse to welcome immigrants fleeing warfare. Indiana is one of these states. RFRA, HEA 1337 and the blocking of aid to Syrian refugeesare at the forefront of Pence’s legacy as governor of my home state. They have dominated the conversation about Indiana in national and international news.
It is as if Indiana has found herself in a relationship with a man who brings out not her courage but her fear, a man who makes her feel bad about herself when she goes out in public, a man who has made several of her children a target of discrimination. My refusal to participate in this event is aligned with my assertion that I care deeply about my home state, that I do not condone her relationship with this man and that I think she can do better.
I recognize that I am privileged to turn down the opportunity to sing and that I am also privileged to speak open-heartedly about this choice — a frankness inconceivable in many other places in the world. My privilege is undeniable and this is what I choose to do with it: I challenge citizens to overcome the polite conversation they reserve for affairs of state and take politics a bit more personally, to acknowledge and see that their neutrality, their conversation and their vote have implications on fellow citizens’ abilities to be themselves in their daily lives — a right that some people living among them have only recently gained the liberty to do without fear. This liberty is fragile, vital and must be cherished and supported.
I welcome you to share your account of when and how politics became personal for you under the hashtag #PoliticsIsPersonal. If this letter resonates with you, please use the hashtag to discuss and share your stories. Any and all accounts (big or small, lofty or plain) are encouraged. If you do not feel comfortable with social media or would like to be anonymous you are welcome to email me at PoliticsIsPersonal2016@gmail.com or call to leave your story at 812–379–8617.
I invite you to share this letter via email, word of mouth, social media and use it to encourage others to share their stories.
I wish you all a celebratory and contemplative Memorial Day weekend.
My heart is singing the Indiana song.