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Members of the Bloomington business community met Thursday at Upland Brewery to voice their support for Indiana Competes, a business coalition that hopes to produce legislation ending workplace discrimination in Indiana.
Currently, there is no statewide legal protection for LGBT employees in Indiana against workplace discrimination. Some anti-discrimination laws do exist in local governments but vary by county. With the lack of statewide anti-discrimination law, it’s acceptable in many areas for an employer to either fire or refuse to hire a person based on sexual orientation.
The passing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act this year alarmed people who worried business discrimination could be tolerated under the guise of religious freedom. This fear extended past Indiana’s borders, and Upland Brewing Company President Doug Dayhoff said he saw in North Carolina.
“We went there for a beer festival,” Dayhoff said. “We went to talk about beer, not politics.”
Dayhoff said some people at the event were hesitant to buy Indiana beer.
“They said, ‘You’re from Indiana. I don’t like what Indiana stands for,’” Dayhoff said.
Dayhoff said it wasn’t possible to determine if the RFRA had noticeably affected his business. He said if it has affected it at all, it’s been in a negative way.
Gabriel Colman, curator at the Venue Fine Arts & Gifts, said anti-discrimination measures are essential for local business. He said he noticed a positive sales trend after same-sex marriage was legalized this summer.
“Within a week of same-sex marriage being legalized, I noticed an uptick in artisanal wedding gift sales,” Colman said. “Our downtown economy could use the economic stimulus.”
Since Dayhoff and Colman are business owners, they emphasized the hand-in-hand relationship between anti-discrimination policies and profitable businesses. Mayor Mark Kruzan took a different approach.
“This is the civil rights struggle of the current generation,” Kruzan said. “This struggle continues and goes on. Having been part of the legislature before, I can tell you that it is a reactive body. It needs input. It’s important what the public thinks.”
Kruzan said inclusiveness shouldn’t be a partisan issue. He said he recently learned George H. W. Bush told his biographer he disagreed with gay marriage but believed people had the right to marry who they wanted.
“A 91-year-old man said that, so it’s not a generational issue,” Kruzan said. “People have the right to be happy.”
To his left, two poster boards advertised the logos of the businesses that joined Indiana Competes. A hand-out said most Indiana Competes businesses were located in Indianapolis. Seven are from Bloomington.
“These logos speak to millions of people — they stand for us,” Kruzan said.
One of those logos is Bloomington Bagel Company’s. Owner Sue Aqulia said her stance for inclusiveness was nothing new, but had been a part of the shop since she opened it 19 years ago.
“I’ve had the experience of discrimination,” Aqulia said. “We decided to be a safe haven.”
Word soon spread that Aquila’s business wasn’t a dangerous one — workers weren’t going to be fired for being gay or sexually harassed by co-workers.
“All we cared about was could you do good work,’” Aquila said.
Aquila said some religious groups protested her business after they learned about her views and her relationship with a woman. The fight for equal rights is nothing new for her, she said.
“I’ve been sticking it out, and I’m going to continue sticking out,” Acquila said.
Currently, Indiana Competes hopes to add signatures to their pledge page online. Dayhoff said eventually the coalition may turn to producing legislation, but for now, it’s about raising awareness.
“At this stage it’s about publicizing the issue,” Dayhoff said. “It’s clear what Bloomington values.”