THE UNBREAKABLE HOOSIER STATE
In Tina Fey's Netflix hit The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a spunky 29-year-old Kimmy (the perennially upbeat Ellie Kemper), escapes to New York City after being freed from an Indiana doomsday cult. Despite being sequestered in a bunker for fifteen years along with her three sister-wives (nicknamed the "Indiana mole women" by Matt Lauer), convinced that the world outside the bunker had ended, with nothing but the absolute cringe-worthiest '80s pop culture for entertainment, Kimmy remains infectiously optimistic about her future.
Growing up in Indiana, and escaping to the East Coast myself, the Unbreakable premise resonates, although my experience growing up in the Hoosier state in the '70s and '80s was much kinder and gentler than a doomsday cult. I lived in a ranch house, not a bunker, with a family, not a cult. I played little league baseball, rode my Huffy through the cornfields and organized repeated reenactments of the Reagan assassination attempt with the neighborhood kids on our front lawn the day it happened. Point being: aside from the last thing, it was not only a normal childhood, but a damn-near idyllic one.
Of course, lots of famous people escaped Indiana, not just Kimmy Schmidt. Steve McQueen and James Dean! Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael! Letterman, Vonnegut! Even Abraham Lincoln! They all fled the state! Indiana was always a place you came from or passed through. And while there have been a preponderance of utopian settlements in its history, they've managed to keep a lid on the doomsday thing, for the most part. Yes, fine, Jim Jones was a Hoosier, and started his Peoples Temple in Indianapolis, but eventually decamped his death cult to Guyana. So, yeah, even he escaped, if you want to think of it like that.
I still have lots of friends and family in Indiana, of course, and I don't think of them as mole people, but they are currently in thrall to another kind of cult, the cult of the morally bankrupt, economically ruinous version of modern religious and political conservatism espoused by the state GOP, whose latest ill-conceived and cynical move is to pass Indiana Senate Bill 101, enshrining discrimination in the guise of "religious freedom," which Governor Mike Pence signed into law Thursday.
Indiana is already losing business because of it. Gen Con, which bills itself as "the original, longest-running, best-attended, gaming convention in the world," and brings in an annual $50 million to Indianapolis, has threatened to go elsewhere. Indianapolis, a sports town, is also feeling pressure from the NCAA over the new law, which could also impact future Super Bowl bids, potentially costing the city hundreds of millions of dollars. Not to mention likely giving up the economic bump marriage equality states get just for being awesome (over a hundred million in Massachusetts in the first five years).
Indiana, my home state, listen to me: despite what you've been told, the world outside, in other Marriage Equality states, hasn't ended. In Massachusetts, where I escaped to, Marriage Equality is about to turn 11, and the sky hasn't fallen. The windfall in the 11 states that recently joined those with Marriage Equality already is estimated at over $700 million. There's no downside. If you don't want to get gay-married, you don't have to. And with marriage equality no longer a wedge issue needlessly dividing the electorate, politicians have to focus on the real issues we hire them to address, like job-creation, economic growth and fair pay. In the great big world outside the bunker, discrimination doesn't pay.
The truth is: laws that protect and enshrine discrimination don't just damage an already struggling economy, they make the lives of neighbors and family and friends needlessly difficult. Whenever we enshrine discrimination and second-class status of any of our fellow citizens into law, not only do we weaken our democracy, we imply that some people's lives are worth less than other's, that they don't merit equal protection under the law, that they deserve abuse. That's not the America or the Indiana I grew up in. Actually it is, kind of. But we don't have to stay in the bunker, that's my point here.
Kimmy put it better. In one episode of Unbreakable, she gives her hapless, hopeless boss a pep-talk: "I survived," she says proudly, "because that's what women do. We eat a bag of dirt, pass it in the kiddie pool and move on!" Not to put too fine a point on it, but the RFRA is a bag of dirt. Indiana: come up out of the bunker, join us in the sunshine. It's time to move on.