CLICK HERE to read the original article on South Bend Tribune.
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.
The statewide organization held a news conference in South Bend Wednesday afternoon at Le Peep restaurant, 127 S. Michigan St., during which Peter Hanscom, initiative manager for Indiana Competes, along with local business owners, LGBT activists and city officials, called on the Indiana General Assembly to support legislation that provides full nondiscrimination protections to LGBT Hoosiers.
The news conference was held was one of seven Indiana Competes news conferences held in addition to the kickoff event held in Indianapolis on Wednesday morning,
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 transgender people has dogged lawmakers ever since a national uproar last spring over the divisive religious objections law, 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 discrimination 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.
Hanscom said expanding the protections is an economic as well as a social issue. “We hear all the time from our coalition partners that are growing by the day and now by the hour about how nondiscrimination really affects Indiana business’s ability to do business and recruit talent and talent retention,” Hanscom said,.
Peg Dalton, owner of Le Peep restaurant, agreed.
“I happen to be a business owner, and I have always maintained my moral compass with what I do in my business with my employees and customers, so this not a big shift for me as it is being vocal and saying that South Bend is a welcoming community,” Dalton said.
Dr. Katie Bast, a third-year family practice resident in South Bend, said that many of her patients come from the LGBT community and often express concern about losing jobs and housing if they come out. Bast also believes that expanding the protections will make her feel more comfortable in recruiting members of the medical community to the state.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigeig was also in attendance and called on the legislature to offer full protection from discrimination to members of the LGBT community.
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.”