Indiana’s LGBT protections debate not expected on airwaves

Indiana state capitol in Indianapolis.

Indiana state capitol in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — Several of the organizations preparing for the legislative debate over adding sexual orientation and gender identity to Indiana‘s civil rights laws are aiming their lobbying efforts on the Statehouse hallways rather than TV airwaves.

Advocates on both sides say they expect dealing one-on-one with lawmakers will be more important than spending money.

Several large Indiana business groups and corporations are supporting LGBT rights organizations, while religious conservative lobbying groups have come out against broader protections.

Indy Chamber President Michael Huber said it is supporting the LGBT protections effort by talking about how such a step could help the state’s economy by helping companies attract and retain talented employees.

“What we are not talking about is some kind of multimillion-dollar mass media marketing campaign,” Huber told the Indianapolis Business Journal. “It’s been one of relationship building. We’re having the most success in private conversations with influencers at the Statehouse where we just talk about the future.”

The Legislature returns in January for the 2016 session, where they’ll consider a compromise bill proposed by state Senate Republicans that would extend civil rights protections to LGBT people, allowing exemptions for religious institutions, some small businesses and restroom policies. The bill would also prohibit stricter local ordinances, such as those in Indianapolis, South Bend, Carmel, Columbus and several other cities around the state.

The debate has spread since last spring’s uproar over the state’s religious objections law, with religious conservatives maintaining that broader LGBT protections could force Christian businesses owners to violate sincerely held religious beliefs.

Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, said his organization has done television, radio and newspaper ads in past campaigns, but will focus on talking with individual legislators. But he didn’t rule out some advertising if he believed it would make a difference.

“It’s possible that if it gets down to swinging one or two votes, that will be something that we’re going to look at,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of resources to do that, anyway.”

The gay-rights group Freedom Indiana, which led the 2014 legislative fight against a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, is most likely to spend money on social media ads, rather than buying television or radio time, spokeswoman Jennifer Wagner said.

Major companies — including Eli Lilly and Co., Cummins, Salesforce and PNC Bank — have joined groups backing broader LGBT protections.

“I’ve never heard in any meeting anyone discuss it in terms of, ‘How much is this going to cost?'” said Bill Oesterle, the former CEO of Indianapolis-based Angie’s List. “It’s kind of telling that the dollar amounts are absent from those discussions. When something is a movement, people don’t talk about it in those terms. There’s a substantial amount of energy that is accessible here.”

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