Business and faith leaders, as well as members from the LGBT community and their allies from across Indiana testified in front of an interim study committee today. They made the case to lawmakers that Indiana’s economic growth hinges on whether or not lawmakers will adopt nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity during the 2017 legislative session.
Last year, Indiana came under intense national scrutiny after a religious refusal bill was signed into law that legalized discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. This legislative action has weighed heavily on business leaders, impacting their ability to recruit and retain talented employees, as well as protect employees from discrimination. Indiana’s lack of protections is especially harmful in fast-growing sectors like high-tech manufacturing, healthcare technology and other emerging technologies, where competition for workers is fierce.
That message was clear during today’s testimony.
Shannon Heider is the Director of State Government Relations at Cummins, which is headquartered in Columbus and employs thousands of Hoosiers. She said Cummins spends a lot to invest in employee development that helps the company and the employee, because Cummins truly cares about its workforce. This caring, she told lawmakers, has also driven Cummins to want to protect employees—by creating internal policies that protect LGBT people from discrimination, and by honoring employee requests to transfer to states that have such protections in place when those internal policies aren’t enough.
“With all the negative attention Indiana has received, we have lost strong, high-performing employees who have cited the negative perception toward the LGBT community as their reason for leaving. They do not want to develop their careers in a state that is perceived as unwelcoming to them. … We need to make sure that all LGBT community members are protected including transgender individuals.”
Michael O’Connor is the Director of State Government Affairs for Eli Lilly and Company. During his testimony, he shared concerns from Eli Lilly’s human resources department—namely, that RFRA has led to confusion in that department. O’Connor told lawmakers that many new hires and potential recruits are not clear on where the state stands on LGBT rights. Many are very sensitive to the issue, and are wary of moving to or staying in a state where the status of their civil rights is in question.
“In the end, we believe we are long past the time where our state needs to stand up firmly and say, ‘no one who resides in our Hoosier State, nor any of our guests, should be subject to the potential of discrimination.’ Any statement or legislation that does not make it clear that we stand against any potential discrimination is simply not enough!”
John McDonald is the CEO of CloudOne Corporation in Fishers and also serves on the board of directors at TechPoint, the Venture Club of Indiana, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce—so to say he knows exactly what the tech sector in Indiana needs to grow is no understatement. CloudOne is on the cutting edge of a growing part of the tech sector know as the “Internet of Things,” and is itself a rapidly expanding company. The company has grown its employee base in Indiana by 720% since moving to the state.
But, as John told lawmakers this morning, “that growth must be fed”—by skilled workers. And that can’t happen if the state is seen as unwelcoming.
“The ramification to CloudOne was also clear: in the marketplace of talent where we compete with New York, Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco—even Chicago, from where we moved CloudOne—there can be not a shred of doubt in anyone’s mind that Indiana is a welcoming and inclusive place to live and work. Said simply, Indiana is not, and never can be, a place for discrimination in any form—especially that practiced by business and allowed by government.”
During the 2016 legislative session members of Indiana Competes fought for nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Hoosiers and visitors to ensure no one can be fired from their jobs, removed from their homes, or denied public services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That legislation eventually failed, but coalition members aren’t giving up.
Indeed, their businesses and livelihoods depend on passing comprehensive non-discrimination protections as soon as possible.
Indiana Competes urges the interim study committee to recommend the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to Indiana’s Civil Rights Law.