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INDIANAPOLIS — Pressure on lawmakers to pass an LGBT rights bill is coming from some of the state’s biggest employers — such as pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and engine-maker Cummins — but it’s also coming from small business owners such as Doug Dayhoff.
Dayhoff, president of Upland Brewing Co., said an LGBT rights measure is needed to repair the state’s reputation, which was damaged in the fight over a religious freedom law that opponents called a license to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples.
Dayhoff’s Bloomington company, one the state’s first craft brewers, is among 150 businesses pushing lawmakers to widen the state’s civil rights law to include protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Members of the coalition known as Indiana Competes say the divisive bill, which Gov. Mike Pence signed last March, makes it harder for Indiana’s global businesses to recruit younger workers who value diversity.
Dayhoff said it also hurts small concerns including his, which is attempting to export craft beer to young, out-of-state customers.
“The moment the reputation of your home state becomes a handicap to your brand as a company, your ability to grow sales outside the state is an inhibitor,” he said.
At a big festival this year in North Carolina, some beer enthusiasts told Dayhoff that they didn’t want to buy his beer because they didn’t like “what Indiana stands for,” he said.
A national furor was just erupting over Indiana’s religious liberty law.
“We were there to talk to about beer, not politics,” he said.
On returning from the event, Dayhoff said he realized that he needed to become politically active on the issue.
Other business owners have made the same decision.
The coalition, which held a press conference near the state Capitol Wednesday, includes major employers such as Anthem, Dow AgroSciences, AT&T and Indiana University Health.
It also includes owners of hair salons, bakeries and coffee shops.
Myron Bontrager, owner of the Electric Brew coffee shop in Goshen, joined when the Goshen City Council struggled over a measure to expand a local ordinance to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
The proposal was pulled when critics claimed it might violate the religious beliefs of some.
“I come from a strong religious background,” Bontrager said. “Coming from a Biblical perspective, why you would turn someone away from your business doesn’t make sense.”
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce have endorsed expanding the state’s civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Most local business groups remain neutral on the issue.
The coalition’s critics reject the premise that a LGBT rights measure is needed.
Micah Clark, of the American Family Association of Indiana, a vocal opponent of such a measure, has said the state’s business climate is healthy. He pointed to a recent Fortune magazine ranking that put Indiana near the top among “Best States for Business.”