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Indiana faces long road to restore battered image after religious freedom law

Opponents of Indiana Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, march past the Indiana Statehouse en route to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday, April 4, 2015 to push for a state law that specifically bars discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Opponents of Indiana Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, march past the Indiana Statehouse en route to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday, April 4, 2015 to push for a state law that specifically bars discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Doug McSchooler, AP

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The crisis isn’t confined to Indianapolis. Fort Wayne, the state’s second-largest city, has had six national conventions express concerns about continuing business in Indiana. If all six pulled out, it would represent about $1.2 million in revenue, said Dan O’Connell, president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne.

Businesses say they’ve been inundated with emails from people asking for reassurance that they are welcome in Indiana, or canceling orders or plans. The famed French Lick Resort, a hotel in an historic town in southern Indiana, issued a statement Friday saying it has “always been open and inclusive” and that the new law won’t change that.

Traci Bratton, owner of the Hoosier Candle Company in Dayton, about 50 miles northwest of Indianapolis, said she’s received emails from out-of-state customers who like her products but say they won’t be bringing their business to Indiana because of the law.

“Hoosier Hospitality has been thrown out the window,” Bratton said.

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But the impact is being most keenly felt in Indianapolis, which has earned national praise for its transformation from a place once referred to as “Naptown” and “India-No-Place” to a vibrant, friendly city that used sports and a downtown renaissance to land a Super Bowl and become a popular pit stop in what was once called “flyover country.”

Indy Big Data, a tech convention slated for May, has lost nine national sponsors, including Amazon and Cloudera. GenCon, the city’s largest convention, has a contract with the city until 2020, but Gahl said negotiations to extend the agreement for another five years could fall through because of the outcry over the law. A departure of GenCon, which brings in about $56 million each year, would be a huge loss, Gahl said.

Even though lawmakers have revised the language of the religious objections law to make clear that it’s not intended to discriminate, Indiana still lacks statewide civil-rights protections for the gay and lesbian community. And economic experts said perceptions about the law could prevent companies from attracting and retaining young talent.

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