Increased Tolerance: GenCon and the State of Indiana

31 Mar

Last week, Indiana passed a so-called Religious Freedom Bill that permits employers and business owners to discriminate against employees and customers on the basis of their religious beliefs. In essence, what this means is that a company can refuse to employ or serve someone whose lifestyle or identity conflicts with the proprietor’s religious beliefs. Put simply, this means that businesses can refuse to serve LGBTQ persons or persons of other religions citing “religious freedom.”

Putting aside – for the sake of this post alone – the horrific implications of such a law (and its highly questionable constitutionality), this has garnered extensive resistance from a variety of places, including the entire state of Connecticut and the gaming and fan con GenCon.

When the bill was still being debated, the organizers of GenCon encouraged lawmakers to consider that they would lose GenCon’s business if the bill went forward. They passed it anyway. GenCon now says that they are seriously reconsidering ending their relationship with the state when their current contract comes up.

And that’s the key – GenCon’s contract with Indiana doesn’t expire until 2020, by which time I’m certain that the law is likely to have been overturned or repealed. I don’t say this to criticize GenCon – they made the contract long before Indiana decided to turn back the clock on tolerance and diversity. The very fact that GenCon has gone out of its way to publicly condemn the bill-turned-law suggests that they are concerned with diversity in the geek community. And the fact that they are telling attendees not to attend if the law makes them uncomfortable suggests that GenCon means what it says: “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.”

GenCon’s response gives me hope for the future of the gaming community. In a group of people who have become almost infamous for sexism and harassment in the last few years, seeing GenCon take an open stance against intolerance is a good sign, at least for the gaming community, if not for Indiana or the US as a whole.

But it’s a silver lining in a storm of intolerance and willful ignorance in which we find racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of bias and bigotry.