A Tale of Three Letters
On Monday, March 23, 2015 Gen Con got a bit political. The Indiana State General Assembly had passed SB 101, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill that would allow businesses to refuse service to anyone based on religious grounds, and it was anticipated that Governor Pence would sign it. That Monday found Adrian Swartout, CEO and owner of Gen Con, publishing a letter that the company had sent to Governor Pence. In the letter Swartout wrote:
". . . For more than a decade, Indianapolis has provided tremendous hospitality and accommodation to our attendees, culminating in an estimated annual economic impact of more than $50 million dollars to the city. Gen Con and its attendees look forward to receiving the same warm Hoosier hospitality throughout the term of our contract.
Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against our attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state's economy, and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years . . ." (3/23/2015 Gen Con Letter on SB 101)
For many this was seen as Gen Con taking a stand on behalf of their diverse attendees. And while Swartout didn't outright say that if Governor Pence signed SB 101 that the convention would be out it was implied. On Twitter my feed lit up with people celebrating this brave stand that Gen Con was taking. Then the bill was signed into law and a second letter was sent, this time just to us. What was in store for the future of the convention?
". . . 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 dialogue with long-term 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 . . .
"What does the future hold for Gen Con 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 . . ." (3/26/2015 Gen Con Letter to Community)
Where was Swartout's righteous indignation? Where was the declaration that Gen Con would definitely be pulling out of Indianapolis since SB 101 had been signed? That they'll be damned if they're going to do business in a state that now allows businesses to openly discriminate against anyone based on religious grounds?
What had originally seemed like a bold stand for Gen Con turned out to be nothing more than a political flag waved in the winds of popular opinion. Some people argued that Gen Con had a contract - they couldn't break it. Except Gen Con is a corporation and corporations break contracts all the time when things become intolerable; and there was that implied threat that this convention with a $50 million impact on the city of Indianapolis would not accept the SB 101's signing into law.
Four days would pass before we would see another letter from Swartout. During that time my Twitter and Google+ feeds were flooded with outrage from Gen Con attendees of old, of today, and of hopeful tomorrows. I can only imagine what Swartout's inbox and social media were like.
". . . Thank you for your continued communications with Gen Con extending your support for our efforts to fight against discrimination. The passage of Indiana SB 101 into the Religious Freedom Reformation Act (RFRA) law has ignited tremendous passion among attendees as well as across the country. We at Gen Con LLC fully expected that the well-informed and opinionated community that comprises Gen Con would be outspoken, and we are pleased to be able to help in amplifying this signal. This morning Indiana Governor Mike Pence took time to call and discuss Indiana's recently passed RFRA law.
"Governor Pence has stated that he believes the outcry against this law is based upon a misunderstanding. We respectfully disagree with this position. A significant portion of Gen Con attendees identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, and we are reading that some members of our community feel unsafe traveling to Indiana, subsequent to the passage of the RFRA law. We understand this sentiment, and will act to support safety.
"Gen Con 2015 will be held, as planned, at the Indiana Convention Center July 30 through August 2. Gen Con staff are working in partnership with the City of Indianapolis, local businesses, Visit Indy, and other grassroots organizations to ensure fair and safe treatment during this year's show . . .
"We believe that freedom from discrimination is a fundamental human right. Until Gen Con has received legally sound assurances that Indiana will support these rights, we are halting our plans to expand Gen Con into Lucas Oil Stadium, and plans for further expansion into other hotel convention spaces . . ." (3/30/2015 Gen Con Letter to Community)
Gen Con did not stand up to fight discrimination before this letter. Instead they sent a letter telling Governor Pence saying that they might, possibly, move the convention in five years. When the bill was signed they said, "We're talking about where to host the convention in 2021! It might be in Indianapolis, then again, maybe not! Who knows? Not us!"
Now they have actually done something. They've halted a major expansion of the convention that would have brought more attendees to the show, more money into the city and state, and more money into Gen Con's own coffers. But is it really anything substantial? They haven't actually done anything that negatively impacts the city or state as they implied they would in that first letter. Is this just more political grandstanding or is this really Gen Con doing the "right thing?"
You tell me.