Indiana Loses First Event Over New Law and More Could Follow

By Parrish Walton, March 30, 2015

The first shoe dropped for the meetings and events industry in Indiana after Governor Mike Pence signed SB 101, a bill allowing businesses to deny service if providing it would conflict with their religious freedom.

The AFSCME, which represents nurses, corrections officers, childcare workers and sanitation workers, has pulled its event in October, citing the new law as the reasoning behind the decision.

“This un-American law allowing businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers sets Indiana and our nation back decades in the struggle for civil rights,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a statement.

ASAE, a leading organization for association executives, followed suit, sending a letter to the governor and top Indiana lawmakers seeking new language barring discrimination.

“Laws that permit discrimination are not only regressive, they put our members at risk of being denied service anywhere from restaurants to meetings and convention facilities,” says the letter signed by USAE President John H. Graham IV, CAE. “This sends a harmful message that fairness, equality, and the principles of our Constitution are secondary to personal prejudice.”

When Governor Pence last week signed the bill, it created a politically charged debate that will play a role in the lead-up to one of the country’s largest sporting events.

This week’s Final Four, held in Indianapolis, will be a cauldron of protests both for and against the bill. Adding to the drama is the NCAA’s home offices are also in Indianapolis, a fact not lost on NCAA President Mark Emmert, who hinted at relocating the offices in a statement criticizing the law.

“We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill,” Emmert’s statement read. “Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”

There are other implications as well. City officials have expressed concern the Big 10, which hosts several events annually in the city (including the Big 10 football championship game) will leave the city due to bill. Gen Con, a large gaming convention, has already said it will leave the state after it’s current contract is up, which runs through 2020.

Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post outlining his opposition of the bill, and Marc Benioff, SalesForce CEO, tweeting his company will no longer host programs in the state.

“These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear,” Cook wrote. “They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.”

The public heat directed toward the state has been intense and should only grow between now and the start of the Final Four on Saturday. It seems the AFSCME will be the first of many at this point unless the clarification Pence says is coming works the way he—and the events industry—hopes it will.

UPDATE

Governor Mike Pence has asked for and will receive an updated version of the law specifically stating businesses cannot deny service based on sexual orientation or identity. The response to the original law caused shockwaves across the country, causing several states to either drop similar proposals all together or amend them to include specific provisions protecting the LGBT community.

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