Indianapolis May Lose Conventions Over State Anti-Gay Law

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In the wake of a new law that allows businesses in Indiana to refuse service to gay customers, a number of large organizations are threatening to pull conventions and meetings out of the state. 

Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law on March 26. As a result, groups ranging from a religious denomination to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) are reportedly considering canceling current or future conventions and sporting events in the state, most notably at Indianapolis' Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium. 

Among those threatening to abandon Indianapolis over the law is the Indiana Convention Center's largest show, Gen Con, which attracts more than 50,000 role-playing game fans and $50 million in economic impact to the center each summer. 

Citing concerns expressed by attendees that they would face refusal of service and discrimination, Gen Con's CEO and owner, Adrian Swartout, wrote an open letter to attendees of the show saying that she has begun discussion about whether to move the show when the group's contract is up in 2021. Organizers have also asked attendees to let them know of any instances of discrimination or negative experiences they suffer during the 2015 show. 

Still, Swartout said that due to "specific dialog with longtime partners in Indy, we believe that Gen Con attendees will not only receive the same great service and hospitality in 2015, but an even warmer response from the city."

Among those speaking out against the bill was Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who "expressed concerns that the measure sends 'the wrong signal' about the city and state," the Indianapolis Star wrote the day before the bill was signed into law. It also cited Ballard's concerns that the RFRA would damage the city's convention business. 

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which has had its headquarters in Indianapolis for nearly 100 years, is considering moving its 2017 General Assembly, which brings some 6,000 faithful to Indiananoplis, according to an open letter by the denomination's General Minister and President, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, sent to Gov. Spence. 

"As a Christian church, we are particularly sensitive to the values of the One we follow -- one who sat at table with people from all walks of life, and loved them all," Watkins and other church leaders wrote in the letter to Gov. Spence, urging him to veto the bill. "Our members and assembly-goers are of different races and ethnicities, ages, genders, and sexual orientations. They have in common that they love Jesus and seek to follow him. We are particularly distressed at the thought that, should RFRA be signed into law, some of our members and friends might not be welcome in Indiana businesses -- might experience legally sanctioned bias and rejection once so common on the basis of race."

Since the RFRA bill was signed into law, Watkins' blog on the church website tells members, "We will keep you posted (and please be patient) as we sort through the contracts, costs, and decisions around the 2017 General Assembly. We also have attorneys reviewing similar legislation in the states that are finalists for 2019 and in states where we would consider moving the 2017 General Assembly. Not all of these bills are the same and there is a lot of misinformation about each of the state laws."

In addition, NCAA president Mark Emmert released a statement on Thursday saying, "The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events. We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees. We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week's Men's Final Four [basketball tournament] in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce."