Zionsville CEO plays big role in RFRA opposition

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Opposition to Indiana’s religious freedom bill rapidly gained momentum after Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff sent out a few thoughts on Twitter late last month.

But before Benioff publicly announced his company would stop travel to Indiana, he was approached by Jon Gilman, CEO of Zionsville-based Clear Software, who might have been the driving force behind the national media frenzy over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Gilman decided to take a stand against the RFRA after it passed the Indiana Senate. It was late in the process, but Gilman wanted to have an impact.

“We’re all heads down working 16 hours a day trying to run our businesses,” Gilman said about leaders of tech companies and the reasoning behind the last-minute stance.

Gilman rallied tech leaders to send a letter to Gov. Mike Pence urging him to veto the bill. He compared his approach to confronting a bully at school. If a bully beats up a kid, the kid comes back with a group of friends and takes a stand. That's more powerful than the kid alone telling the bully to stop.

“Being a smaller business, if I personally were to write something to Gov. (Mike) Pence, it wouldn't have the impact,” Gilman said.

His company has three employees in the Indianapolis area and plans to double to six soon.

On the morning of March 25, Gilman emailed the letter he intended to send Pence to Benioff and asked if he could add his name to the list of signatures.

Benioff gave his permission, and then went to Twitter. It’s possible Benioff would have sent reactions to his nearly 160,000 followers without hearing from Gilman, especially since one of his employees already had taken a stand. Scott McCorkle, head of Salesforce Marketing Cloud in Indianapolis, sent a letter opposing the measure on March 20.

But it’s probably safe to say Gilman’s letter had an impact, which is what he had hoped for when he contacted Benioff.

“I didn’t expect it to go nationally viral, but I’m glad it did,” Gilman said. “Bringing Mark Benioff into the picture is really what took it to the national level.”

As Benioff's message quickly spread, other companies didn't waste time opposing the bill, which opponents argued would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Supporters said it provided necessary protection for religious beliefs.

Pence signed the religious freedom bill on March 26, but after the state was put in an unflattering spotlight, lawmakers revisited the legislation and sent a new version back to the governor.

On Thursday, Pence signed the “fixed” bill, which adds a provision stating it cannot be used to discriminate against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“It’s step one,” Gilman said. “That’s at least going to undo some of the damage.”

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