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Indiana LGBTQ Business Leaders React to RFRA and #BoycottIndiana

04/07/2015 12:17 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Indiana lawmakers have revised the Religious Freedom Restoration Act so that it won't allow businesses to deny services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers, but don't celebrate yet: As long as LGBTQ people remain an unprotected class in Indiana and 27 other states around the country, we'll still face discrimination in housing, healthcare, schools, the workplace, and in other institutions.

The backlash against the bill has been both triumphant and disheartening. From the corporations like Angie's List that are taking their business out of the state, to countless organizations and individuals working on behalf of LGBTQ people, these groups deserve credit for pressuring lawmakers.

In this incredible groundswell to #BoycottIndiana, however, LGBTQ business owners and allies have been caught in the crossfire of the indiscriminate push to avoid the state. Meanwhile, the far right has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for businesses that publicly refuse to serve gay people.

So, where do queer-led businesses stand?

I spoke with three LGBTQ business leaders about how the bill could affect their work, if they've experienced discrimination in Indiana, and what we can all do to support queer Hoosiers.

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Tara Betterman, Owner and CEO of Communitas Management and Betterman Builders

What was your reaction when SB101 passed?

"Even though we knew it was coming, we just didn't believe it. We could not believe that in today's society somebody would pass legislation that would open a particular class of citizens up to blatant discrimination."

What's your reaction to the clarification?

"I know I should be jumping for joy over the "clarification" of RFRA. Politically we are closer to equality then we have ever been, but it is still perfectly legal in Indiana to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender Identity. I worry that this small victory will slow the momentum of our movement for adding GLBT as a protected class. A fight for the next legislative session, I guess."

Do you worry about the impact on your business?

"My wife and I own two companies here in Indianapolis for 12 years and we want people to spend money with our businesses. If our state can't attract tourism because of this problem and conventions...and [businesses] can't attract the talent because of our 1950s way of thinking, then that's going to affect the amount of money Hoosiers are spending with my business and other companies around here.

"Not just gay-owned businesses or GLBT businesses...As a business owner, I'm a little nervous about people telling me they're ready to boycott our state whether we like it or not, it's going to have a direct impact on the state's unemployment. So, it's kind of a double-edged sword. We really do appreciate what's happened."

Have you ever experienced discrimination in Indiana?

"I live in Indianapolis and I work in Indianapolis, so I may be naive in saying that I feel welcomed here and I've never felt unwelcomed in a business but I have to say that if you get out to the rural areas, there is a lot more of that if you walk into a restaurant and wonder what kind of service you're going to get."

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Trevor Yager, President and CEO of TrendyMinds

What's your reaction to the clarification?

"I'm glad to see additional language proposed so that the RFRA cannot be used to discriminate against LGBT individuals in Indiana, however I was hoping for a full repeal. At this point, neither side is extremely happy and the bill doesn't do much to make anyone feel wonderful about our state government.

"Indiana still does not provide statewide civil rights protections that include sexual orientation or gender identity. So for me, this feels like a small peace offering that is being used to quiet everyone. While I applaud the business community for stepping in on the Indiana RFRA, I hope they don't stop at this "fix" and continue to press for statewide LGBT protections against discrimination."

Does the bill change how your company will do business in the state?

"We have got amazing clients that support us and that support diversity. The thing that needs to be known is that the state leadership might be thinking one thing and following a small sect of people who are very religious and very conservative but the rest of the state is not like that.

"I've been in business for 20 years now in Indiana and as most of the nation is getting more and more open, and open minded, I think our clients have been very supportive as well."

What are some of the consequences of this bill for business owners?

"We're seeing conventions pull out... Organizations like Visit Indy have worked very hard to attract people to our city... I think this is really damaging and unfortunately, there's been a lot of work. I, myself, have lived downtown for 16 years, and I've been part of and I've seen the city evolve and grow and become a great destination.

"It's saddening to see that with just one bill that has passed for that to unravel and unravel very quickly. As for other companies, I'm concerned for some of my friends in the restaurant business that depend more on consumer driven model...

"There's an old saying that my mother used to say that I think is appropriate, 'Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.' You've got to separate the individuals that this is from from the business leaders from the government."

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Chris Douglas, Founding Partner and Managing Director, C.H. Douglas and Gray Wealth Management

Is the clarification of the RFRA enough?

"With respect to last week's action, it is an important step forward, establishing for the first time in Indiana State law in the context of nondiscrimination the classes 'sexual orientation and gender identity,' accomplished with the support of two houses of the Indiana legislature with Republican super majorities, and in the face of resistance by the Governor of Indiana that was obvious to all...

"Given the huge amount of support for the addition of those words coming from Indiana's communities of faith, Indiana's businesses and ordinary citizens of Indiana, it establishes a clear desire of the people of Indiana to see the LGBT community protected from discrimination.

"As an eighth generation Hoosier, from one of Indiana's strong traditions of tolerance, I am confident that in a proper legislative process, in which all Hoosiers have an opportunity to participate, the LGBT community of Indiana will soon have our equal protection of the laws guaranteed to us, and in a way that unifies Hoosiers in our support, rather than being perceived as extorting it."

To what extent do you think the RFRA is a reaction to the passage of same-sex marriage in Indiana?

"I would not underplay that aspect, but I do think that there was also a larger and broader agenda: serious attention by the right wing to leverage the Citizens United decision that practically declared corporations people with freedom of speech, and through the Hobby Lobby decision extending that freedom to religion.

"Now facing a societal backlash to right wing impositions, they are attempting to erect all the defenses they can. Some of those defenses are legitimate and some are obscene."

Have you worried about the impact of the law on your business?

"No. For 20 years I have lived openly in business and social life in Indiana, and find it a warm and wonderful place to live. As an investment firm, we're very good at what we do. Others would be exceptionally foolish to take their business elsewhere just because of who we are."