INDIANAPOLIS (January 24, 2016) - A committee of state lawmakers will hold a hearing to discuss the controversial debate over adding civil rights protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Senate Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedure will hear two bills Wednesday afternoon dealing with LGBT rights, proposals which also include a number of exemptions involving religious freedom.
It's a debate that's been closely watched with numerous civic leaders and organizations weighing in - lawmakers, pastors, and business leaders - all with very different views.
But this week's hearing also comes as local tourism officials share new data suggesting the state's reputation is still suffering from the controversy over last year's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
According to a Visit Indy poll, conducted by Reach Market Planning & Walker Research, tourists think that think Indy still has a long way to go following the religious freedom fallout from 2015.
It’s a survey Visit Indy does every year. They ask meeting decision makers from around the country (those responsible for bringing conventions to Indy), and 400 Chicago residents (the city that supplies the biggest number of Indy tourists), what their perception of Indianapolis is.
The results from 2015 were not what Visit Indy was hoping for.
“To say that we haven’t been impacted by RFRA would not be accurate,” said Chris Gahl, the Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Visit Indy.
An online poll of 339 meeting decision makers from all over the U.S, and 419 Chicago residents (the biggest supplier of Indy tourists), weighed in on Indy’s post-religious freedom reputation.
“It tells us that even though we were out buying advertising and conducting trade show marketing and email marketing and really putting out the human rights ordinance message, we still have a lot of work to do,” said Gahl.
When meeting decision makers were asked if Indy in fact does “Welcome All,” only 45 percent agreed. That number was even less, 43 percent for Chicago residents.
The numbers were even lower when that same question applied to the state, with 28percent of meeting decision makers agreeing with the statement that “Indiana Welcomes All,” and 38percent of Chicago residents agreeing with the same statement.
Thirty-five percent of meeting decision makers said Indy had a strong and diverse business community. That number was only 32 percent for Chicago residents who the poll says may consider Indy for a weekend retreat.
“When we’re not successful, if we don’t get a convention and steer them into Indianapolis, there’s a chance that people aren’t working, that people lose their jobs,” said Gahl.
Gahl appeared on this week's edition of IN Focus to discuss the results of the poll.
In the video above, Gahl also talks about the efforts to keep major events here in Indianapolis, which has been a major concern since the national fallout over RFRA, when threats came from multiple groups around the country that had been scheduled to come to Indy.
GenCon threatened to pull the plug, even the NCAA issued a statement of concern over RFRA.
Ultimately a few conventions pulled out, but Visit Indy officials say their city’s perception problem may last for years to come.
“Those groups that stepped up and booked Indy towards the end of 2015 might not do that again because of what’s being discussed over at the statehouse,” said Gahl.