Oesterle launches tech lobbying group for LGBT fight

Former Angie's List Inc. CEO Bill Oesterle announced Thursday that he's launched a tech-sector advocacy group that's aimed at advancing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights across Indiana, hoping to leverage the industry's economic prowess to get anti-discrimination ordinances and laws passed.

The group is called Tech For Equality, and Oesterle said he and political operative Megan Robertson, both Republicans, are helming it. Robertson is well known for leading a Freedom Indiana initiative last year that helped thwart an Indiana constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage.

Tech for Equality expects to kick things off Monday in Carmel, where it will be supporting a proposed ordinance to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city's nondiscrimination ordinance.

It expects to advocate for such changes in other cities and at the Statehouse in the next General Assembly, Oesterle said.

"The tech community, particularly when it comes to talent acquisition and retention, has very specific needs," Oesterle said, "and they're highly affected by issues like non-discrimination."

Oesterle said so far he has several people and companies in the tech industry backing his effort, including Collina Ventures LLC founder Mark Hill, Indianapolis-based TinderBox Inc. and Indianapolis-based OurHealth LLC.

He also said he plans to invest a five-figure sum to get the group off the ground and lobby others for financial support. He plans to unveil his full list of backers Monday.

Oesterle said the tech industry sees some of the most robust job growth around and boasts some of the highest starting salaries. The employees that tech companies hire tend to be socially progressive, Oesterle said, so it's in government's best interest to improve the environment for those companies.

Oesterle's support of LGBT rights dates back to at least the early 2000s, when he backed activists groups and candidates that supported that cause. In March, he pulled the plug on an Angie's List expansion proposal that involved state funding after the Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law.

In April, Oesterle said he would step down as Angie's List CEO to become more civically involved. He said the new group "is a piece of that."

John McDonald, CEO of CloudOne, was one of the first tech CEOs to take a public stand opposing RFRA. On Thursday, he said he supports Tech for Equality's goals and that it's good to see tech companies finally get involved in governmental issues.

"As technologists we're not always appreciative of the role that governments can and, in some cases, should play in our profession," McDonald said. "We tend to solve problems with code and machines, but sometimes there are social issues that are not necessarily solved by code and machines."

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