Revulsion and Revolt: Backlash Against Indiana's Pro-Discrimination Law Grows


At a mid-morning press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Mike Pence said it would now be the right thing to do to “fix” the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act—which he signed into law just last week—after a national backlash against the measure  led justice groups, business leaders, and a diverse coalition of in-state and out-of-state of voices to call for a boycott of the state because the law was seen as sanctioning anti-gay and potentially other forms of discrimination.

Though he continued to defend the spirit of the legislation, Pence admitted that he was caught off-guard by the widespread condemnation of the law and blasted both journalists and civil liberties advocates for painting Indiana as a place where intolerant bigotry exists. “This law does not give anyone the right to discriminate,” Pence said at the news conference. “But I can appreciate that that has become the perception.”

Pence called on the state’s General Assembly to send him new language to clarify the law this week. As many national news outlets covered the morning press event live, many on social media (including those additionally worried about the governor’s peculiar breathing patterns) took note of Pence’s continued misdirection when it came to addressing concerns of the law’s strongest critics.

And Jeb Lund pointed out in a column at the Guardian on Tuesday morning, what many critics of the law are now equally angered about is the fact that Pence, as well as other backers of the law, refuse to admit that the intent of the legislation was clearly to enable discriminatory practices. As Lund put it:

If you want to see the band Wilco play this Spring, you won’t be doing it in Indiana.

Joining other artists, businesses, sports fans, municipal and state governments, and untold numbers of individuals, the popular rock band’s decision to cancel an upcoming concert in the state was an explicit move to support the #BoycottIndiana movement which has sprung up in response to a new pro-discrimination law passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence last week. Wilco’s decision comes as equality and civil liberties advocates continue to mobilize against Indiana’s recently passed ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA),’  and is now part of a wider revolt against the controversial law, and others like it, across the country.

“We’re canceling our 5/7 show in Indianapolis,” the band announced on Twitter Monday night. “‘Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act’ feels like thinly disguised legal discrimination.” 

As the Republican-controlled legislature and regressive allies from across the country continue to defend the law, a large and diverse coalition has quickly taken shape to challenge it. While both Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz have voiced support for the Indiana law, dissenting politicians, faith leaders, local business owners, larger corporations, and student groups both inside Indiana and across the country are declaring there is simply no room for a law that makes it easier to discriminate—particularly against members of the gay, lesbian, and transgender community.

Masked as a move to protect religious freedom, critics charge the new law is a cynical response to the legalization of same-sex marriage in states across the U.S. and is nothing less than an attempt to insulate those who would cite religious objections in order to refuse to do business with or provide otherwise public services to LGBTQ people.

The law signed by Gov. Pence—passed as SB 101—has become a flashpoint against similar pieces of legislation that are already law or are currently making their way through other state legislatures. Though Pence has tried to argue that the bill is not anti-gay and other GOP lawmakers in the state expressed “shock” over the backlash, the Huffington Post‘s Amanda Terkel reports on why this line of defense is “hard to believe.” Terkel highlights the efforts of the gay rights group GLAAD, who made it clear they believe the Republicans knew exactly what they were doing by passing SB 101 and pointed to this photo which shows who was present at the closed-door signing of the bill last week:


Meanwhile, in an open letter sent to Pence and leaders in the Indiana House and Senate on Monday, national LGBTQ and civil rights groups called on lawmakers to quickly enact new legislation to fix the law.

“Indiana is already on the verge of losing billions of dollars and thousands of jobs because of this dangerous law. Major organizations have announced they are cancelling conferences and companies are pulling business from Indiana to protect their employees and customers from discrimination,” the letter reads. “We want Indiana to be the thriving state that it can and should be, but that will never happen with state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people on the books.”

The signers of the letter encourage Indiana lawmakers to immediately pass a new bill—entitled ‘The Fairness for All Hoosiers Act’—which would update state laws against discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations to protect LGBT community members in the state and to ensure that the recently enacted RFRA could not be used to discriminate or otherwise violate state or local laws and protections.

“Governor Pence can’t answer the question, but we can,” said Katie Blair, campaign manager of Freedom Indiana, which introduced the bill. “It’s clear the RFRA, which has attracted so much local and national attention, is doing considerable damage to our state. Freedom Indiana is ready with a proactive legislative solution that will demonstrate our commitment to fair treatment for all and send the message that we’re open for business. We urge the General Assembly to act quickly and pass this into law.”

In a separate form of protest, the state of Connecticut, as well as the municipal governments of San Francisco and Seattle, have suspended taxpayer-funded trips to Indiana until the law is changed or repealed.

Also on Monday, the CEOs of nine large corporations—including Eli Lily, Anthem, and Angie’s List—sent a letter to Indiana lawmakers warning that the new law would endanger their ability to attract workers and protect the employees they already have from discriminatory practices.

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“Regardless of the original intention of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we are deeply concerned about the impact it is having on our employees and on the reputation of our state,” the executives wrote in the letter. “All of our companies seek to promote fair, diverse and inclusive workplaces. Our employees must not feel unwelcome in the place where they work and live.”

Other large business interests, including Apple Inc. and, have said publicly that the law would impact how they view the business environment in the state.

Speaking with the Huffington Post on Monday, Blair said the response and outpouring of support for the state’s LGBTQ community has been amazing. “I’ve honestly never seen anything like it in Indiana. It’s been just awesome,” Blair said. “To see folks actively speaking out and taking a stand, people you never thought would say something about it, it says a lot.”

The Guardian reports on how the situation in Indiana has placed focus on other states who have passed, or are attempting to pass, similar laws. According to journalist Ed Pilkington:

For civil liberties and gay rights advocates, however, the attention being brought to the issue because of the revolt against Indiana’s law is actually the silver lining of  SB 101’s passage.

“I’m feeling very optimistic after what has happened in Indiana,” Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the Guardian. “There has been a huge public outcry coming from all quarters and that’s a testament to the highly structured network that has been created that can get the word out quickly.”

As for Wilco?

“Hope to get back to the Hoosier State someday soon, when this odious measure is repealed,” the band said. “Refunds available at point of purchase.”

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