LGBT groups: PR will fail to rebuild Indiana's image without new legislation

Repairing Indiana's reputation will take more than support from Porter Novelli.


WASHINGTON: Legislation protecting LGBT individuals in Indiana is vital in mending the state’s reputation tarnished by the religious freedom bill, according to LGBT advocacy groups.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation hired Porter Novelli to help boost its global reputation less than a month after Gov. Mike Pence privately signed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Critics of the bill said it could allow businesses the right to refuse service to LGBT patrons. A number of major corporations, local companies, advocacy organizations, and sports groups have voiced their concerns and opposition of the law.  

Two weeks ago, Pence signed a fix to clarify that the bill prohibits discrimination. On Monday, the IEDC told PRWeek that outcry over the religious freedom bill was not what prompted the state to hire Porter Novelli.

However, some on the advocacy side said regardless of the intent, repairing the state’s tattered image and reputation is Indiana’s most pressing issue right now.

On Monday, the Human Rights Campaign released a statement on its website titled, HRC to Reeling Governor Pence: Don’t Pay for PR Advice, We’ll Give It to You for Free.

"Our judgment is not associated with the hiring of [a] PR firm or the firm they hired, but rather as a clarion call," said Fred Sainz, VP for communications and marketing at the Human Rights Campaign. "As policy makers, if they want to avoid a $2 million-plus expenditure, they should not introduce these horrible pieces of legislation that bring nothing but turmoil to [the state’s] reputation."

Sainz said the state has to "do something bold in order to completely change the platform" because without that, further efforts run the risk of coming across as "hollow."

When reached for comment Tuesday, a representative from the IEDC said via email that "work on this effort has already begun with Porter Novelli to assess the needs of the initiative, design and execute a communications strategy, and identify the resources needed to ensure a successful effort."

JJ Gufreda, president of the Indy Rainbow Chamber, echoed Sainz’s sentiments, saying the state should make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under Indiana’s civil rights code.

"That’s much more powerful than saying, ‘Indy welcomes all,’ and people wearing t-shirts," she said.

Gufreda added that "there is a lot of pent-up anger and frustration" across the state about the bill being signed.

New legislation in the next session is critical or "there are going to be a lot of people that are really upset that we were ignored," she explained.  

As a result of the bill, once-unlikely coalitions have been forming across the state to show their support for the LGBT community, said Gufreda. She added that Porter could do well to shine a light on the new partnerships helping with Indiana’s rebound attempt because it "would be positive and real."

WFYI Indianapolis, Indiana's largest PBS and NPR member station, reported Tuesday that despite the efforts of some Indiana legislators, the state’s anti-discrimination laws may not be expanded any time soon.

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