Feature: What do LGBT people in Indiana think of ‘Boycott Indiana’?

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

After calls to boycott Indiana over the state’s ‘religious freedom’ law, Skylar Baker-Jordan looks at what LGBT people in the state actually think.

Following Indiana’s Republican governor, Mike Pence, signing into law a controversial piece of legislation which opponents claim can lead to discrimination against LGBT people, critics—led by actor and activist George Takei—took to social media to call for a boycott of the state.

CEOs of multi-billion dollar corporations pulled out of the state, celebrities expressed their outrage, and even governors of other US states prohibited state-funded travel to Indiana.

But LGBT Hoosiers—a nickname given to denizens of the Midwestern state, located just east of Chicago—who must live with not only a potentially discriminatory law but also a boycott, are conflicted over the campaign to boycott their state.

Jennifer Wagner, the communications director for the state’s flagship LGBT rights organisation Freedom Indiana, says: “We don’t condone all of the tactics that have been used to highlight the negative effects of this law” – citing the hacking of the state’s website.

However, she does say Freedom Indiana “[stands] strong alongside everyone who has voiced their opposition.”

Others felt similarly. “When I heard of #BoycottIndiana, I had mixed feelings,” says Thad Gerardot, a gay man from Fort Wayne, a city he “really does enjoy.”

Last year, Mr Gerardot became the first openly gay candidate for Indiana’s House of Representatives

He said: “I realise that it often takes money and boycotts to get the attention of people in power, but I do not want anyone to boycott Indiana. I want them to come here and help us.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Megan Green, a gay woman living in Indianapolis.

She says: “It feels like we are in a losing situation.

“If people don’t boycott, how do we make Pence and other lawmakers listen in a real way?”

But she worries that LGBT Hoosiers are in a “lose-lose situation” if a boycott doesn’t force the state legislature and Governor Pence to change the law.

She adds: “We will lose safe jobs, patrons to our businesses, and all the the services funded by taxes (that) tourism contributes.

“It’s scary to think that the LGBT community will miss out on jobs at those non-discriminatory employers.”

Andy Markle, the graphic designer behind the “Open for Service” stickers which pro-equality businesses in Indiana have been displaying to show they serve everyone, agrees.

He says: “I view it as highly damaging. The boycott of our state and its products hurts LGBTQ businesses… without them, you would’ve never known about this bill.”

Mr Markle was once exploring a run as a Republican candidate for the state House of Representatives, but left the party after the state GOP launched a campaign to amend the Indiana constitution to prohibit gay marriage.

He made this decision, he says, because the party “no longer held my interests at heart… they constantly voted against me and codified discrimination across the board.”

This isn’t surprising to JD Ford, of Carmel.

He stood against Republican incumbent Mike Delph—whom he says “is a big proponent of RFRA”— in an Indiana state senate race last year, the same year a federal court struck down Indiana’s ban on equal marriage.

During his campaign he says he “predicted this would be an issue” in the next legislative session.

Mr Ford views it as “retaliation for the progress Indiana has made for marriage equality.”

Thad Gerardot, who also campaigned for office last year, agrees, saying: “Pro-equality candidates don’t have a chance here, because of the money the Republican party spends against them.”

Even so, neither fully supports the boycott. Mr Ford says it “doesn’t make much sense”… at the very end of this firestorm are everyday Hoosiers trying to make a living.”

Gerardot agrees. “LGBT (people) are not going to stop being born and growing up here. It is important to have pro-LGBT businesses here so that we can create a more inclusive and welcoming environment.”

One of those youths is sixteen-year-old Tate Clapp, a trans man from Greenfield. Despite the number of prominent voices backing the boycott movement, LGBT Hoosiers’ voices are “going unheard,” he says. “It just seems like it’d be better to make it a larger project and bring it to Indiana, not outside Indiana.”

This is a sentiment shared by Megan Green, who is “not seeing a lot of #BoycottIndiana from inside the state, probably because we don’t have that option.” As for the rest of the country, Mr Markle asks that they don’t turn their backs on the state “when we need you the most.”

That need is greater than the media is reporting, some feel. Ms Green says: “I wish we’d all stop talking about cupcakes and wedding photographers.

“I’m worried about not being hired. I’m worried about not getting first-rate medical care just because of who I am.”

As Indiana currently lacks a statewide law banning discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, she worries about LGBT people who may not have a chance to work for employers with non-discrimination policies if they all flee the state.

Similarly, Tate Clapp is also concerned about his most basic of rights.

He says: “Now that RFRA is around, I’m worried about my bathroom situations mostly. Not many places have unisex bathrooms.”

He says that in his town, there are “a lot of family-owned businesses,” and that he gets “a rush of anxiety walking into them.”

The teen was already planning to leave Indiana when he turns 18, but says RFRA has pushed him “towards a more definite decision.”

However, other LGBT Hoosiers feel differently about their state.

Mr Markle adds: “Indianapolis is an incredibly liberal city full of social liberals and fiscal conservatives,”, noting that he hasn’t “experienced vast amounts of discrimination in Indiana.”

JD Ford thinks:  “Indiana is a great state to live, work, and call home.”

As for the negative backlash against their state, Ford lays the blame squarely at the feet of Republican lawmakers, including Governor Pence. “Fix this law immediately so Indiana can stop suffering and we can start healing.”

Jennifer Wagner, of Freedom Indiana, concurs.

She said: “I’m a lifelong Hoosier, and I’ve watched over the past 30 years as efforts to improve our state’s reputation, especially in our large cities, have transformed us us from flyover country.”

She adds: “Over the past week, I’ve watched all that hard work become compromised by a law that’s made us look unfriendly and unwelcoming. I know in my heart that’s not who Hoosiers are.”

Skylar Baker-Jordan is an independent journalist and commentator based out of Chicago, focusing on LGBT rights, masculinity, and British politics. He has written for The Advocate and Salon. Follow him on Twitter.