Convention organizers inquire about RFRA

(WISH Photo/Eric Halvorson, file)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — AFSCME has planned to move their 2015 Women’s Conference scheduled for October out of Indianapolis following the passing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

According to AFSCME’s website the organization will search for a new state to hold its conference. The release in part said,  “This past week, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a bill that legalizes discrimination, allowing businesses to refuse service to customers simply because they are gay or lesbian. Further, since Governor Pence claims disingenuously that it is about religious freedom, his law protects any business owner who refuses to hire someone of a different religion from their own.”

They went on to say the 1.6 million members will not spend their financial investment in Indiana knowing citizens are being targeted for discrimination. They said they have a history to stand up whenever injustice has occurred.

The three day conference was to be held in October and include up to 900 women.

“AFSCME is pulling our Women’s Conference out of Indiana this fall as a sign of our disgust and disappointment with Governor Pence’s discriminatory law. We stand with the ever-growing number of corporations and associations who are taking similar action this week, and demanding fairness for all in the state of Indiana.”

AFSCME Indiana-Kentucky Organizing Committee 962 said they support the move to pull the conference out of Indianapolis.

“We stand for the right of all people to be treated equally, no matter their race, religion, or whom they love,” said Debra Garcia, Executive Director of AFSCME 962.

Despite Governor Pence and Republican leaders insisting the law does not discriminate, Chris Gahl, spokesperson for the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau, said his office has heard from as many as a dozen organizations with scheduled conventions whose representatives are inquiring about the law.

“They are giving us the benefit of the doubt,” said Gahl. “They’re waiting to see where this goes.”

Gahl said tourism officials have been “aggressively” working the phones to reach out to conventions that are scheduled for Indianapolis.

“Because Indianapolis has worked so hard over the years, we feel that there’s a sense of urgency with the community as a whole to rebound from this … to make sure that the world knows that we are hospitable,” said Gahl.

But in a statement dated March 30, the CEO and owner of one of Seattle-based Gen Con said her organization is halting expansion plans for future meetings in Indianapolis. Gen Con is one of the city’s largest conventions – drawing an estimated 50,000 people each year. The city has a contract to host Gen Con through 2020.

“Gen Con has asked Governor Pence to support an amendment to RFRA that includes protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We believe that freedom from discrimination is a fundamental human right. Until Gen Con has received legally sound assurances that Indiana will support these rights, we are halting our plans to expand Gen Con into Lucas Oil Stadium, and plans for further expansion into other hotel convention spaces,” said Gen Con CEO and owner Adrian Swartout in a statement posted to the group’s website.

Just days before the NCAA Final Four is set to begin at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard held a news conference Monday to address citizens and visitors to his city. Ballard said he is signing an executive order that will require anyone doing business with the city to abide by Indianapolis’ human rights ordinance. He also said the passing of RFRA will not define Indianapolis.

“Let me be clear. Indy welcomes all. Residents, visitors, and our workforce have always been and continue to be protected by our city’s human rights ordinance,” he said. “Hoosier hospitality is alive and well in Indy and it will be extended to everybody.”

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