INDIANAPOLIS (MEDIA GENERAL) – “Once you hear a bad joke about a place, you always think of it,” said JJ Marie Gufreda, President of the Indy Rainbow Chamber of Commerce. One day after Indiana lawmakers passed a fix for its Religious Freedom Restoration Act ensuring protection for LGBT residents within the confines of that statute, a lot of work remains to repair Indiana’s reputation around the country, according to business advocates.
Gufreda, who advocates for LGBT friendly businesses in Indiana, is happy about Thursday’s win. But, knows it’s not enough for the LGBT community. Already, the CEO of Angie’s List has said, “Our position is that this ‘fix’ is insufficient. There was no repeal of RFRA and no end to discrimination of homosexuals in Indiana.”
The goal for LGBT advocates is to get sexual orientation and gender identity added into the state’s Civil Rights Code adding the LGBT community to Indiana’s list of protected classes. Getting there will require work between now and Indiana’s next legislative session.
Repair Indiana’s Reputation
Step one for Gufreda is helping to repair Indiana’s reputation around the country. The Indy Rainbow Chamber of Commerce is meeting with Visit Indy, the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association, next week. “We’re not a lobbying group. But, we bring people together to solve these business issues,” Gufreda said.
“We (Indiana) burned a lot bridges. We have a lot of organizations that are upset with us,” Gufreda said. Repairing that damage will take time. Already, a movement is in place to give away free T-shirts to Final Four fans that read “Indy Welcomes All.” Pickup locations can be found on social media just search #IndyWelcomesAll.
Building a Coalition
“People in the legislature have said ‘LGBT’ out loud and in public which was never in the realm of possibility before (the RFRA fix),” said Gufreda. So, now the LGBT community wants to make sure the conversation continues.
Gufreda said it was unfortunate that the rush to get the RFRA fix done didn’t allow the Indy Rainbow Chamber a place at the political table. However, they are pleased with the work that was done by Republican LGBT advocates Chris Douglas and Kathy Sarris.
“The LGBT political community is not real organized. I think the main thing that will come is a lot more coordination,” said Gufreda. While the Indy Rainbow Chamber is not a lobbying group, it does advocate for business issues and this is now “a really big business issue,” according to Gufreda.
Indiana’s next legislative session starts in January. The goal for the LGBT community will be to add sexual orientation and gender identity into the Civil Rights Code as a protected class. Despite momentum right now, there are plenty of those against the idea galvanizing on the other side of the issue.
After an Indiana pizzeria told a reporter it wouldn’t serve a gay wedding, the restaurant said it had to close due to threats. It opened a crowd funding account to generate support and in 48 hours it raised more than $500,000. “There’s a lot of fear and not a lot of dialogue,” said Gufreda. “We need to have reasonable discussions.”
Gufreda said one good thing she’s seen from the RFRA fix is that it’s woken a lot of people up. The Indy Rainbow Chamber has heard from young people who want to vote and get involved politically to support LGBT rights in Indiana.
Celebrate Gay Weddings
On April 12, the Indy Rainbow Chamber is holding a “Grand Marriage Equality Wedding Event” hosted by the Indiana Grand Racing and Casino. The event will allow Indiana’s LGBT community to meet friendly vendors and to practice dancing in a friendly environment. Gufreda said the RFRA attention has made the event more popular and brought it more attention.
Overall Gufreda has an eye on the future. “We hope we can undo the damage to our state and move forward in the relatively near future to get all the protections that we need.”