With discrimination in Indiana just off the forward bow, George Takei is asking his fans and the LGBT community to navigate a heading for shade in order to protect the rights of gay Hoosiers.
On Monday, March 23, the Indiana State House voted to pass SB 101, a controversial “religious freedom” bill based on the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by Congress in 1993. Public outcry against the bill has since been fierce, with many concerned that it would essentially legalize discrimination against any whom a business holder may find “offensive” to their religious beliefs, including LGBT citizens, allowing them to refuse service to said customers.
Major Indiana job providers — including Salesforce, Cummins, and Eskenazi Health — have all taken stands against the bill, joining the voices of gay Hoosiers who feel that their state is now labeling them as second-class citizens. Notably, annual Indianapolis convention Gen Con, the world’s largest gaming convention and a $50 million staple of the Indianapolis economy, has threatened to leave Indianapolis if the bill passes, stating that “Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against our attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state’s economy, and will factor into our decision making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years.”
Unfortunately, despite public opposition, Governor Mike Pence signed the bill into law today, justifying it by saying that the "Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action."
All hope is not lost, however, as major public figures are now lending their voices to the controversy. After Gen Con made its concerns about the bill clear, George Takei has come forward to support his fellow nerds in their fight against discrimination. “This bill is strikingly similar to one proposed—and vetoed due to public outcry—in Arizona. Such laws harken back to a time where our society was divided, and people of color were banned from white establishments,” he explained in a post made to his popular Facebook page. “That is not our nation any longer, and those are not our values.”
His solution? A boycott. In Takei’s words:
“To the governor and to the legislators in Indiana who support this backward-looking and divisive bill, I say to you this: If it goes into effect, Indiana will be marked as a state where certain people are not welcome, and so we will not visit. We will not spend. And we will not attend events, including GenCon, the world’s largest gaming convention, held in Indianapolis each year. Many fans here are gamers, Governor Pence, and we will demand the convention move out of your state.”
Joining the nerd sphere in the fight against hate is an unlikely ally: the athletic community. Because of Indiana University’s history with college basketball, March Madness sweeps Indiana every year with great fervor. Now, it comes with trepidation. With the Final Four set to take place in Indianapolis next week, the NCAA also made its concerns about the bill clear.
“We are examining the details of this bill,” explained the NCAA. “However, the NCAA national office is committed to an inclusive environment."
Concerned about whether he would be treated equally upon arriving in the state, Jason Collins, the first openly gay player to play in the NBA, tweeted at Indiana governor Mike Pence on Monday, writing: “Is it going to be legal for someone to discriminate against me & others when we come to the #FinalFour?"
With the bill having been passed, it has become unfortunately clear that the voices of Hoosiers alone will not sway those who would deny rights to the LGBT community. As such, it seems as if Takei’s suggestion of a boycott may be the best option for those looking to oppose the new law. Gen Con’s contract requires it to remain in Indianapolis through 2020, but if the law has not been repealed by then, it is unknown if it will stay. Though similar bills have been proposed in several states across the country, the only other state to have passed such a bill into law is Mississippi. Indiana must now ask itself whether this is the image it wants to project to the rest of country and be ready accept the consequences of their decision.