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Indiana feels unsafe to LGBTQ+ community

As a woman business owner and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, I do not feel safe living and working in Indiana. There are many LGBTQ+ people who feel the very same, and it’s important for the business community to understand why.

For years, I have been the recipient of far more “Hoosier hostility” than “Hoosier hospitality” in the form of attacks on my reproductive health care rights, physical threats, digital hate mail on all social media platforms, harassing prank calls, belittling emails and damage to my personal property for being an outspoken activist for women and the LGBTQ+ community.

What has hurt the most was the deafening silence from many business owners and leaders when anti-LGBTQ+ legislation was introduced and then enacted into various laws during the legislative session this year. This silence has had terrible consequences. And it is indicative of a broad complicity in the business community to legislators’ creation of a hostile climate in Indiana.

The business community has to stop pretending that “Hoosier hostility” doesn’t exist and needs to recognize the profound impact on Black, brown, LGBTQ+ people and women. If Indiana businesses continue to ignore the needs and civil rights of these groups, there will be significant micro and macro level costs in both the short and long terms.

To offer an example of the micro-level effects, one of my staff is moving out of Indiana this month because they are concerned for the welfare, safety and access to health care for their daughters. Five members of The Startup Ladies (who are highly educated and have created businesses and jobs in Indiana) have moved to different states because they no longer feel safe living and working here. Last summer, I built an exit strategy to leave the state should an emergency arise and I needed to access a safe haven in haste. The people this state has worked so hard to attract are leaving.

My example illustrates how just one woman-owned company has been negatively impacted by the inaction and silence of business leaders. Imagine what is quietly happening to the rest of Indiana’s businesses right now.

On a macro level, if Indiana continues on its current path, it will quickly develop a national reputation as a state where people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and women are unwelcome.

Indiana could, with reason, become the target of a travel warning similar to the one issued by the NAACP to Florida on May 20: “Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.”

Indiana’s reputation is quickly shifting from “A State that Works” to a state that works to erase Black, brown, and LGBTQ+ histories by working to ban books in public libraries, to enact laws that punish teachers for caring for transgender students, to make it illegal for transgender girls to participate in girls sports, to deny affirming health care for transgender people, and to ban women’s reproductive rights. The silence and continued lack of action of business leaders is enabling this process.

And, in so doing, they are ensuring that more residents will flee the state; vacationers and sports fans will avoid visiting and hosting conferences and conventions here; enterprise level companies will not bring jobs here; and top talent from around the world will be repelled from living and working here.

How do we change Hoosier hostility into Hoosier hospitality?

If Indiana is to be seen as a state with a business climate that welcomes, celebrates and protects diversity, business leaders must make a consistent effort to preserve the rights of women, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. We must keep public libraries as bastions of factual history and free thought. Public schools must allow every type of student to attend without fear of threats, physical violence or being outed. Caring teachers committed to making safe classrooms for diverse students should never fear legal recourse.

As business leaders, we can associate with and amplify the organizations and messages that honor and protect marginalized groups. Attend an Indy Black Chamber of Commerce event. Become a member of the Indy Rainbow Chamber and invite your straight colleagues to join you and serve as allies and ambassadors for the organization.

Invite the ACLU of Indiana to present their outstanding (free) program created for companies of every size to make workplaces a more welcoming and inclusive place for transgender employees.

Donate generously to the Indiana Youth Group because they have a growing number of clients, youth ages 12-24 as well as their parents, relying on their resources to support LGBTQ+ Hoosiers.

But, more than anything, speak out. Build coalitions and speak in unison about the need to create a state that welcomes, supports, and is truly safe for Black, brown, LGBTQ+ people and women.•

*This article was originally published by the Indianapolis Business Journal on June 9, 2023.


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