A coalition of 150 Indiana businesses said Wednesday that the absence of a state law guaranteeing LGBT civil rights protections could hamper the ability of companies to draw talented workers, harming the state economy.
Indiana Competes, which includes Eli Lilly and Co., Cummins, AT&T and Anthem among its ranks, plans to hold events around the state in the coming weeks to publicize the issue ahead of the legislative session that begins in January.
For Marya Rose, the chief administrative officer for Cummins Inc., it's as simple as looking at what other companies have to offer—especially if they're bordering an ocean or mountain range, providing natural beauty that surpasses Indiana's prairie
"When we think about Indiana, we have to make sure that Indiana is creating environments where people want to come and work," she said, adding that the question for top talent becomes: "Do I want to go live in Indiana, or do I want to go live in Seattle?"
The issue of expanding civil rights protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people has dogged lawmakers ever since a national uproar last spring over the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which some said could sanction discrimination against LGBT people.
The law was changed amid the unrest. But in the aftermath, business groups and other supporters of gay and lesbian rights have pushed for a statewide ban on discimination in housing, employment and public accommodation based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. Religious conservatives, however, object because they believe it could force Christian businesses owners to violate sincerely held religious beliefs.
Influential members of the GOP state Senate are trying to bridge that gap. Last month they proposed a bill that would grant such protections while also carving out religious exemptions. Neither Republican Gov. Mike Pence nor Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma have said if they support the proposal. Pence said he is studying it and having conversations with people around the state.
Stephen Fry, a vice president for human resources and diversity at Eli Lilly, said the company supports the bill but believes some changes should be made to it. He declined to say what changes the company would like.
Upland Brewing President Doug Dayhoff said he was at a brewery festival in North Carolina during the height of the national outcry over the religious objections law. He said he was approached by numerous people who all seemed to have a negative perception of Indiana as a result of it.
"Within the first 15 minutes of starting to share our beers the first person made a remark and said 'Oh you're from Indiana. I'm not sure I like what your state stands for,'" Dayhoff said. "As somebody who works to export our product outside of our state, around the country, that is really troubling for us."