Last week, a civics lesson played out in real time. It started when lawmakers in Indiana passed a "religious freedom" measure – a piece of legislation that many businesses interpreted as legal protection for businesses to refuse service to the LGBT community.
Critics spoke up loud and clear. A movement to boycott Indiana sprung up almost overnight. Individuals, businesses, sports teams, municipal and state governments all pledged they would avoid traveling to or investing in Indiana.
While the controversy erupted after Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the bill into law, Visit Indy had been working with Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and business leaders since February to oppose the legislation. Tourism officials worked hard to ensure that an amendment to eliminate the potential for discrimination was added to the law. The leaders at Visit Indy share the open-minded belief of the entire meetings industry: that every citizen and visitor should receive fundamental human rights everywhere they go. Other destinations around the state such as Bloomington and Fort Wayne joined the conversation, voicing support for policies that welcome every visitor.
Late in the week, the travel industry’s work paid off. Lawmakers met in Indianapolis and approved changes to the law to prohibit service providers "from using the law as a legal defense for refusing to provide services, goods, facilities or accommodations. It also bars discrimination based on factors that include race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or United States military service," according to The Associated Press.
The legal language in Indiana has been fixed, but the backlash from the media attention lingers. We all know first impressions are often the strongest, and those who first heard of the initial measure didn’t necessarily stick around to hear about the corrective, clarification amendment. So there is the sad potential for a residual negative perception for our Indiana colleagues.
What can our industry do? Support Indiana. Keep our contracted meetings in Indiana and keep Indiana in our future consideration set. And when you are in Indiana, lend your voice to our colleagues who are asking the state legislature to obliterate intolerance and discrimination and make LGBT individuals a protected class.