Here, in no particular order, are a few thoughts of mine on the law (SB 101, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that will supposedly enable businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals), the people attacking it, the people defending it, the people explaining it, and furries.
First of all, if you haven’t read one of the excellent legal analyses of the law, you should do that. Many of them are not even very long! Here is a good one.
The short version: Indiana’s law is different for two big reasons. One, most other RFRA-like laws are worded to protect individuals against government policies. SB 101 specifically enumerates corporations and for-profit businesses as people and specifies that they may seek remedy against other individuals. Two, most other states with these laws also have a state-wide anti-discrimination law protecting sexual orientation and/or gender identity; while the city of Indianapolis does, the state of Indiana does not (this is the remedy called for by the Indianapolis Star on Tuesday: to pass this law to basically take the teeth out of SB 101).
The initial reaction to the law from its opponents (i.e. 90% of the Internet) was somewhat overblown (surprise, Internet!), not in the reach of the law, but in the probable future application of it. Given the way the law is applied and the general expense of bringing suit, it’s unlikely that a wave of discrimination would have swept the state. However, I don’t believe that the reaction was all that extreme because the interpretation being put on the law by its backers, specifically some of the people who created it, was exactly that broad, and people who want to engage in that kind of discrimination would have taken away the impression that they were now allowed to. So I think that, content of the law aside, the tone of its passage that was created by the legislators definitely created the hostile atmosphere that people responded to.
And the response. Wow. I gotta say, every time something shitty like this happens, I am heartened by the breadth of response to it. In this case, a lot of religious people, businesses, and groups spoke up to make sure that we heard that most Christians are loving, tolerant people who are sick and tired of this fundamentalist minority representing their entire group. The same could be said of the people of Indiana. I’ve spent a few weeks in Indiana–Indianapolis mostly–and everyone I met there was unfailingly nice in that great midwestern way. If you missed the Indianapolis Star’s Tuesday front page, it was beautiful: a black square with three huge words, top to bottom: FIX. THIS. NOW. Go look at it.
A lot of people are talking about boycotting Indiana. GenCon famously is looking at other sites; the NCAA is going to “look closely” at events there; people are canceling business trips and so on (including the city of Seattle, the state of Washington, Salesforce, and many more, a heartening–see previous paragraph–list). There have been other people who have said that when they visit Indiana they are only going to patronize businesses with “We reserve the right to serve everyone” signs. Some people are concerned that boycotts of Indiana will harm those businesses that aren’t discriminatory (well, yes).
So the question is whether you think an economic boycott is the right way to fight something like this. If you do, then yeah, it’s going to hurt everyone in the state, not just the people you’re targeting. If you think you are going to change the minds of the politicians with an economic impact, then the only real option is not to visit the state. If they count up tourist dollars to see the impact of the legislation (itself a doubtful proposition, see below), the dollars don’t come in bins marked “tolerant” and “discriminatory.” You can affect individual businesses in this way, probably, and if you *live* in Indiana, that’s likely your best option.
Personally, I am doubtful that an economic boycott (at least on an individual level) will work. The public threat of one by large businesses, as well as the Internet-wide shaming of the politicians involved, seems to be working much better. One of the reasons I think this is that I can’t imagine how hard it would be to examine economic performance and be able to isolate changes to a factor as specific as this law (as opposed to, say, a change in tax structure that has a quantifiable result). Another reason is that the Internet has a pretty short attention span. This issue has persisted for nearly a week at this point, but that’s because the governor has held TWO news conferences, the mayor of Indianapolis has held a press conference, they’ve both been on TV as the major news programs catch up to the Internet, and so on. The length of time it takes for an economic boycott to work is just too long for people to remain interested. The momentum is here now, and everyone is of the opinion that something needs to be done now.
Another good side effect of all the discussion and boycott threats is that laws in North Carolina, Georgia, and Montana that were under discussion in the legislatures there have quietly been tabled, at least for the moment. A strong show of public opinion really does help, because now, instead of thinking that these laws are a great way to get points with the right-wing fringe voters, politicians are seeing that they actually score really negatively with everyone else.
So the best thing you can do is actually keep up with the issue, and keep talking about it. Don’t let the Indiana state legislature do nothing until everyone moves on to the next crisis. If you’re going to Indianapolis, you’re probably okay because they have an anti-discrimination law, so don’t feel too bad about spending some money there. On the other hand, if you feel strongly that you don’t want any of your dollars to go to Indiana but you don’t want, say, IndyFurCon to die, then send them money directly. And if your state is considering a law like this, write to your representatives. Let them know how you feel. That still makes a difference.