Gen Con Responds to Signing of SB 101

Gen Con CEO and owner Adrian Swartout issued a follow-up letter today after Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed SB101.

Backers describe SB 101 as ”religious freedom” legislation that could protect business owners who don’t want to provide services for same-sex couples.

The key message of CEO Swartout’s letter is that Gen Con will fulfill its contract, attendees may get an even warmer response from the host city, and the decision to stay or move is far from made –

We have a contract with the city of Indianapolis through 2020. Gen Con is an economically impactful event for locally owned businesses in the Indy community which for more than a decade have embraced us as guests. Due to specific dialog with long-time partners in Indy, we believe that Gen Con attendees not only will receive the same great service and hospitality in 2015, but an even warmer response from the city. For as long as we stay in Indianapolis, we will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with this community, expand our efforts to bring more diversity to Gen Con, and welcome all.

I hope that you’ll join us at Gen Con, which will be inclusive and fun. Prospective attendees, if you don’t feel comfortable attending, based upon your principals, we invite you to make the decision that feels right for you, your business or group. We support your decision, regardless of the outcome.

What does the future hold for Gen Con in 2021 and beyond?  Planning and bidding for our convention is a long-term process that begins five years prior to contract-term commencement. Discussions, whether to remain in Indy or move elsewhere, have begun.

The full text of the letter follows the jump.

Dear Gen Con Community,

Earlier this week, I sent a letter to Governor Pence because our organization felt compelled to highlight the concerns of many attendees and exhibitors. The letter addressed their fear of potential right of service refusal, possible discrimination, and overall voiced our disapproval with SB 101. The message this legislation sends to tourists, Indy locals, and the overall business community is one of exclusion.

Gen Con has enjoyed many years of successful partnerships with the local Indianapolis business community, and we are grateful for their many positive responses to our letter. Visit Indy, the Indy Chamber, numerous local businesses, and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard have spoken against the passage of SB 101. It is clear that the Indianapolis business community is not in favor of the state’s legislation. We have received hundreds of messages from industry members and Indianapolis companies doubling down on their support to welcome all Gen Con attendees.

Today, Governor Mike Pence signed SB 101 into law. While this is disappointing, it was not unexpected, and leads to the question, “what does this mean for the future of Gen Con?”

We have a contract with the city of Indianapolis through 2020. Gen Con is an economically impactful event for locally owned businesses in the Indy community which for more than a decade have embraced us as guests. Due to specific dialog with long-time partners in Indy, we believe that Gen Con attendees not only will receive the same great service and hospitality in 2015, but an even warmer response from the city. For as long as we stay in Indianapolis, we will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with this community, expand our efforts to bring more diversity to Gen Con, and welcome all.

I hope that you’ll join us at Gen Con, which will be inclusive and fun. Prospective attendees, if you don’t feel comfortable attending, based upon your principals, we invite you to make the decision that feels right for you, your business or group. We support your decision, regardless of the outcome.

What does the future hold for Gen Con in 2021 and beyond?  Planning and bidding for our convention is a long-term process that begins five years prior to contract-term commencement. Discussions, whether to remain in Indy or move elsewhere, have begun.

If you have positive or negative experiences with local hospitality during Gen Con, we want to hear about it. We will create an email feedback form for attendees prior to the 2015 convention, and review your experiences at our annual post-convention employee summit. We encourage attendees to continue to voice their opinions via social media or if they feel more comfortable, to send emails to customerservice@gencon.com or call our Customer Service line at 800-529-3976 (x3806).

Gen Con is read to bring another year of record attendance, gaming and fun to Indianapolis. Let’s continue to show off how open-hearted, fun, and inclusive our event and the Indy community can be.

Sincerely,

Adrian Swartout

CEO/Owner of Gen Con LLC

20 thoughts on “Gen Con Responds to Signing of SB 101

  1. Wisconsin would be delighted to welcome GenCon back to the state where it was born (as the Geneva Convention) in Lake Geneva, and later Milwaukee.

  2. I’m looking forward to seeing dozens of signs along the lines of “In exercise of our religious convictions, we do not serve…” and ending with “Blacks”, “Asians”, “Irish”: “Roman Catholics”, “Jews”, “Fundamentalist Christians”, “Christians”, “Feminists”, “Latinos”, &cet. (It might take a while to establish religions that incorporate opposition to these factors on seemingly-religious grounds, but I think it could be done, and I think there are enough people in Indiana with the senses of humane Justice and of Humor that they might do it.

    Meanwhile, I suspect that more than one person will print-out small slips of paper the above pseudo-religious exercises and affix them, surreptitiously, to random small businesses, chain outlets, and fast-food places.

  3. I look forward to stories of business owners in the Indianapolis area turning Mike Pence and his bigoted crew away in the coming months. With this one bill, Indiana seems to have turned into North Arizona.

  4. Or, it could be much ado about nothing (in the context of how the convention goers experience their dealers). Despite the ominous tones in his first letter, the GenCon owner confirms that nothing is changing for at least five years…

  5. It could also be that while the convention itself is locked in by contract for five years, the convention *goers* may decide they don’t want to go to Indiana.

  6. @ Evelyn: Could be, could be. I have never attended GenCon – it is a very large con, which are not as pleasant, IMO, as smaller, local events. That said, it will be *interesting* to see if there is a blip downwards in attendance. I predict not. Instead, attendance will continue to grow.

    Since there are more than a dozen states that have a Religious Freedom law and their economies are prospering or not for reasons independent of this law. Moreover, since there has been a federal version since 1993 – which bill has some very well known signatories, this is a tempest in a teacup, the ‘outrage-of-the-moment’.

    If GenCon moves in 2020, it is more likely to do so as a result of outgrowing the venue. Their challenge will become whither GenCon? Larger venues cost a lot more and are not as centrally located. There have been many gripes about the lack of hotel capacity near the con. This sounds a LOT like SDCC, D*C and other big cons

    FYSA, the Saleforce ($4bn co.) CEO is posturing nicely about his company not doing business in Indiana anymore. I wonder if he looked into which other states in which he already operates have this law before he began his attempts at Twittocracy?

  7. What’s relevant is that Gen Con is now on record as being against what it deems unjust discrimination against members of the event who could be affected by SB 101. That it did so in a clear and public way is a sign that it does take such discrimination seriously and that it will be an important factor in future site decisions for the event. So it will be interesting to see if any Gen Con members are subsequently discriminated against thanks to the passage of SB 101. Of course the very passage of the law is a clear sign that the State of Indiana does favor such discrimination, which changes the perceptions Gen Con members have about the perceived hospitality of their current location. So while passage of SB 101 may not dissuade anyone from attending Gen Con in the short term, it may lead them to favor relocation of the event in the future.

  8. @ratseal, since Salesforce as a company is partially based in Indiana thanks to a recent acquisition, employees of the company living in or traveling to Indiana are directly affected by the passage of SB 101.

  9. @ David – I agree with both your posts. Saleforce is also partially based in MA, IL, VA, WA, FL and DC. All of these also have a state law or in DC’s case, a federal law, equivalent to SB 101. AFAICT, Salesforce is not threatening to pull out of those states.

    Salesforce is also based partially in the PRC. I think that we can agree that there is much greater opportunity for religious and sexual freedom in any of the RFRA states than in a country where they literally omit LGBT words from the official dictionary (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/23/chinese-dictionary-comrade-gay-term-controversy_n_1696278.html) . And yet, Salesforce is expanding its footprint there.

    My point is that the Salesforce actions are not meaningful in the context of the company making a principled stand. The larger (15+ states) context suggests that the RFRA legislation has limited to no impact on the LGBT community and instead this issue is a convenient plank for perpetuating outrage and page clicks.

  10. @ratseal – with respect to state and federal legislation, what I believe you’re referring to is what’s generally called a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”, or RFRA. These series of acts were intended to protect individual religious freedom. However, RFRAs were not written to allow discrimination against protected classes of people (as well as conflicting with other compelling government interests), including LGBTs. Indiana’s SB 101 explicitly allows persons to deny public accommodations to LGBTs, so it isn’t a copycat of said RFRA. IANAL, so take appropriate amounts of salt, as needed.

  11. I’m no lawyer, but I slept at a Holiday Inn Express last night. They do have salt there, in tidy little single serving packets!

    The law is actually a 4 page (barely) addendum to an existing law. The whole thing is here:

    https://iga.in.gov/legislative/2015/bills/senate/101#digest-heading

    My interpretation (YMMV) is that the operative clauses (Sec. 8, the bulk of the others are definitions) are the same as the basis for the Hobby Lobby decision last year. Nowhere on the 4 pages is discrimination against LGBT folk explicitly permitted. I may have missed it, but I don’t think that you can point to the *specific and explicit* language in the document that contradicts my statement.

    I apologize for any impolite tone, and for my insatiable pedantry – but I do like source documentation, I do!

  12. @ ratseal – I think pedantry comes with the territory when it comes to the fine print of legislation, so no harm no foul as far as I’m concerned. But according to this report SB 101 would allow discrimination against LGBTs by explicitly overruling existing community laws in Indiana that forbid such:

    http://indianalawblog.com/archives/2015/03/ind_govt_pence_11.html

    So no, it’s not an explicit approval of discrimination, but it’s certainly approved _sotto voice_.

  13. FYI, here’s more about the _sotto voice_ approval of discrimination against LGBTs:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/20/indiana-gay-rights_n_6910746.html

    “The Indiana Senate passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last month and the bill is expected to get a full House vote as early as Monday. The legislation, which is co-authored by 13 Republicans, would allow any individual or corporation to cite their religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party. This language is intended to protect people with strong religious beliefs, including business owners who don’t want to serve same-sex couples.”

  14. Well, I see where AZ didn’t place their bill into law, but the gov’s veto was in response to the successful media fueled campaign – tellingly, I couldn’t find where backers of the bill suffered en mass for their support. In the other states that have similar laws, I haven’t found examples (though I haven’t been exhaustive in my search) where LGBT people have been turned away, save for a few anecdotal wedding cake decoration stories.

    I think that the likelihood that a cop will refuse to protect someone, or a firefighter will refuse to help someone, both cases which are used to explore the boundary conditions in arguments against the law, to be delivered in a breathless tone. This law isn’t new and where it exists, there doesn’t seem to be a crushing or even incremental push on LGBT folks.

    I mean, Massachusetts?

    I have seen counter examples where this legislation could help religious minorities other than Evangelicals – the Muslim man who wants to wear a beard in a management consultancy, or a woman who prefers a niquab in a legal firm.

  15. What does it mean that Adrian Swartout is the “owner” of GenCon? So he gets all the profits from the con? How did he end up as “owner?”

  16. Martin Wooster: According to the GenCon web site: “Gen Con LLC was founded in May of 2002 by Peter Adkison, founder and former CEO of Wizards of the Coast. After a short hiatus from the industry, Peter purchased the “Gen Con Game Fair” from Wizards of the Coast. The first show under Peter’s leadership took place August 2002 in Milwaukee, WI. At the time of its founding, Gen Con LLC acquired the U.S. convention held in Milwaukee, as well as the national brand that had enjoyed licensed shows in the United Kingdom and Barcelona, Spain.”

    According to the Indiana Secretary of State’s web site, there is a limited liability company called GenCon LLC registered in Fort Wayne IN, but it is badly overdue in business filings and I don’t know whether it’s the same company that runs GenCon.

    It would appear that GenCon is owned by a for-profit LLC, and whoever the members of that LLC are, they get to keep any profits from the event.

  17. @Don Fitch: I would hope that people don’t go around affixing “In exercise of our religious convictions, we do not serve … (Blacks/Asians/Irish/Roman Catholics/Jews/Fundamentalist Christians/Christians/Feminists/Latinos)” messages to “random small businesses, chain outlets, and fast-food places.”

    The fact that the new Indiana law may reportedly make it possible for private businesses to discriminate doesn’t mean that any particular business actually is going to discriminate against anyone. If any particular businesses in the state do engage in discrimination, people can direct their protests toward those businesses, rather than against other businesses which haven’t discriminated against anyone.

    There was an incident about a week ago in Austin, Texas, where a man put stickers that said “Exclusively for White People” on various businesses. (The person turned out to be someone protesting against gentrification.) Not surprisingly, the appearance of the stickers went over very poorly. And one state legislator initially missed the point entirely and wrote on her Facebook page that people should refrain from supporting one of the stickered businesses until “some explaining” is done.

  18. By the way, I realize that some people may choose to spend their tourism dollars in other states besides Indiana as a result of this law, and if that is their preference, I’m not challenging that. (For that matter, I’ve never even been to Indiana myself, nor do I currently have plans to go to that state.) All I’m saying is, don’t assume that just because the XYZ Restaurant or the ABC Hotel is in Indiana, therefore they must be discriminating against some group of people.

  19. Kevin Standlee: Thank you for answering my question. I think it’s important to know GenCon’s corporate status should controversies about it arise in the future.

  20. Kevin: I did some more searching on the Indiana Secretary of State web site. There is a different LLC registered in that state named “Gen Con LLC” with Gen Con as separate words in the name, as opposed to “GenCon, LLC” with GenCon as a single word.

    Gen Con LLC is actually an LLC organized in Washington state but registered to do business in Indiana. It is up to date in its Indiana filings and listed Peter D. Adkison as one of its partners and Adrian Swartout as its CEO on its most recent filing with Indiana, and it listed the same office address in Seattle on its web site as is mentioned on http://www.gencon.com/press/corporate.

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