Will Indiana Ever Recover From The Damage Done By Their Anti-Gay Law?

Indiana could face years of problems from their anti-gay Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), even though they’ve added a fix that keeps businesses from discriminating against the LGBT community, or other groups of people. An analysis by the Associated Press says that these kinds of things have lasting effects on a state’s reputation. Indiana’s tourism industry is in full damage control mode as people and organizations continue to express concerns over whether the state still has a welcoming atmosphere.

Hundreds of LGBT rights activists marched over to Lucas Oil Stadium, where the NCAA Men’s Final Four and National Championship games are being held. They’re calling on Indiana to go farther, and make the LGBT community a protected class in their civil rights laws. Currently, no such protection exists in Indiana, which is part of what got people so upset when they passed their anti-gay law.

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The AP article reports that the presidents of several tourism promotion groups have been in crisis mode since Pence signed that bill into law. Visit Indy, Indianapolis’ lead promoter, has received more than 800 emails from people canceling or threatening to cancel trips, even for things like the Indy 500.

Visit Ft. Wayne, the lead promoter for Indiana’s second-largest city, says that they’ve had six conventions express concerns about the state’s level of hospitality. If all six left, Ft. Wayne would lose $1.2 million in revenue.

The AP says that the damage to Indiana’s reputation likely won’t be fixed anytime soon, despite their haste to pass a “fix.” Something similar happened to Arizona in 1987, when then-Governor Ev Mecham removed Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday from the list of paid state holidays. That backlash was swift, severe, and cost Arizona a lot in the resulting tourism boycotts. The state even lost a Super Bowl bid. Their reputation took years to recover, even after passing a ballot measure that reinstated the holiday.

We can say that, since Indiana clarified their anti-gay law to make it less anti-gay, the backlash can stop now. But what’s happened is exactly what made other states drop, delay, or modify similar measures; they don’t want to be seen as unwelcoming and non-inclusive. Even with the “fix” in place, just knowing that Indiana would pass something like that, without built-in protections for the LGBT community or anyone else, raises huge questions about how the state sees the LGBT community, and really, anybody who isn’t straight, white, Christian, and cisgender.

The AP’s analysis is probably right, that this will haunt them for years without a major course change in terms of LGBT rights in general. It’s not just the actions, it’s the reasons behind the actions that are causing the concern. The “fix” is too little, too late for many, if Indiana doesn’t do anything else to show they welcome everyone.

Featured image by ErgoSum88 – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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