By Amanda Creech
Indiana Tourism Association, Hirons, Eli Lilly and more than 150 other businesses in Indiana launched a coalition known as Indiana Competes – a group aiming to add civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers to state law.
“Make no mistake, what happened last March really damaged Indiana’s reputation,” said Marya Rose, chief administration officer of Cummins. “We need a non-discrimination statute that is fully inclusive and ensures that people are treated equally under state law.”
The group announced their formation and mission during a press conference Wednesday morning.
The response comes about seven months after the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law and then quickly altered after a firestorm of criticism. Michael Huber, chairman and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said RFRA may have brought together many businesses in Indiana.
“RFRA had a unifying effect on our business community and our community at large,” he said. “It provided a great opportunity for business leaders and business owners to come forward and say, ‘This is not who we are. Indianapolis is a welcoming place, it has been for decades’ and this is an opportunity for us to get out in front of this issue and tell the nation and tell the world who we are.”
Doug Dayhoff, Upland Brewing Company president, was among those to testify in support of the civil rights protections. During a business trip in North Carolina, he received negative reactions to being from Indiana.
“It was probably within the first 15 minutes of starting to share our beers that the first person made a remark and said ‘Oh, you’re from Indiana, I’m not sure I like what your state stands for,’” he said. “To be honest, our whole team was taken aback by that. We went to North Carolina to talk about our beers and we went to North Carolina to talk about where we’re from.”
Dayhoff said throughout the day he received so many comments about the politics and the political headlines that RFRA had gathered in the news.
“As somebody who works to export our product outside of our state around the country that was really troubling for us,” Dayhoff said. “Upland has always stood for very open environment. We have customers, we have employees, we have family members who belong to the LGBT community.”
Stephen Fry, senior vice president of human resources and diversity for Eli Lilly, thanked legislators Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, for introducing the anti-discrimination legislation before the legislative session begins.
“While we will work to make modifications to the language, we look forward to collaborating with legislative leaders and others in the weeks ahead in the same constructive manner we have today,” Fry said. “By making this change to our code, we will move our state forward.”
Indiana Competes will be working with lawmakers and hosting events throughout the state to educate other business leaders about ways LGBT equality affects economic growth and to recruit business pledges in the coming months.
Amanda Creech is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.