The CEO of a massive gamers’ convention has threatened to leave Indiana earlier this year over religious objections law that said organizers are “shopping the show” to other cities and could relocate if lawmakers do not expand their protections for gays and lesbians. Many cities have tried courting the convention organizers since the national uproar from Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s initial signing of the bill in March. The law was amended so as to not be a cover for discrimination or override city ordinances like that in Indianapolis, but the state civil rights law still doesn’t ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Adrian Swartout, the CEO of Gen Con, told The Associated Press on Thursday, the convention’s opening day, that a competitive offer from a state that grants gays and lesbians that status could be a “catalyst” pushing the event to relocate when its contract expires in 2020. Chicago has shown interest, and Orlando, Fla., also is a possibility, she said.
Losing Gen Con could be a huge blow for the city as last year, more than 56,000 costumed damsels, dungeon masters and roll-play game aficionados visited the city bringing an estimated $67 million in revenue. Even if the state did not pass the religious objections law, Swartout said it would be routine for organizers to seek other offers. “If we have opportunity to be in places that have state protections, that might make the deal,” Swartout said. “This is important to us.”
Earlier this year, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into measure a law that could allow businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers in the name of “religious freedom.” Indiana was the first state this year to enact the measure that many states have been pushing for, but instances like these with more major organizations threatening to leave illustrate the backlash that has occurred as a result. Time will tell if the law is overturned, but it will certainly help to have more people like Adrian Swartout speak out for LGBT protections in Indiana and beyond.