Open Letter to Indiana From a Tech Founder And LGBTQ Community Member

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(Image of Josh Driver courtesy of TechPoint) (Image of Josh Driver courtesy of TechPoint)

In light of the recent news that the Indiana State Senate failed yet again to pass a hate crimes bill, leaving it as only one of five states without one, I feel compelled to come to the defense of my home, Indiana.

My husband and I are proud to live in Indianapolis. We are proud to call Indiana our home, and my business is headquartered here. But my relationship with the state can be summed up in two words: "It's complicated."

It's been two years since the disastrous Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and Indiana is still the butt of jokes when it comes to progressive attitudes, culture, equality, etc. That event, while most of us are not proud of it, might have been the wakeup call technology companies needed to find their voice.

As the Kauffman Foundation notes, entrepreneurial startups are primarily responsible for new job growth, and they are, by nature, always looking for new employees and new customers. The RFRA situation motivated me to start "Open For Service," a community action organization. We launched a "This Business Serves Everyone" sticker drive, which, to no one's surprise, found its most fertile support in the tech community.

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Two years later, Indianapolis is one of the finalists for Amazon’s HQ2 and our tech community is starting to exhale after the RFRA storm, but we are also seeing groups forming to diminish our state’s growth and opportunities because we hold out on common sense legislation.

Indiana state senators recently proposed SB418, which would have made a crime committed “with the intent to harm or intimidate an individual because of certain perceived or actual characteristics of the individual” subject to tougher sentencing. Opponents of the bill wished to remove the LGBTQ language from the bill, stripping it of its initial intent and forcing it to die in committee.

Legislation like RFRA is discriminatory at best. Maybe that doesn’t bother you at all. To be clear, though, it bothers me. I want Amazon to build HQ2 here. I want people, families, businesses, and Taylor Swift to move here.

Indiana has so much to offer, yet our positive attributes don’t seem to receive the same clicks as the negative headlines that perpetuate the stereotype of Indiana as the land of bigots. In many ways, it’s just not true. People in my community live and thrive here, despite the regressive thinking of a few in our legislature. Yes, we still have a lot of work to do in the equality and inclusion space, but we are steadfastly heading in that direction.

The silver lining with the RFRA controversy was that Indiana businesses discovered their voice was impactful. Personally, as the founder of a tech startup, I want to know that Indiana has my back. You can give me tax credits and incentives all day long, but I’m looking for authentic support. I need to know that the tech talent I need to grow my business is welcomed here.

Perception is the key to our reality, and key to Indiana’s coming out party in regard to being a state that truly values all Hoosiers and those we wish would relocate to Indiana. Hoosier hospitality needs to be felt by all who live here, who visit, and whom we wish to recruit to move here.

I cannot tell you how often I speak with people who had hesitations about the LGBTQ community, but once they hear my story or see me and my husband as we are - they get it.

"I didn’t realize I had nothing to be afraid of."

"You know, you’re not as bad as they say."

Who knew?! I can’t get in front of everyone that probably could use that “aha” moment, but I take every opportunity I can to try.

There is no need to leave your political party or your church. All I need is for you to thoughtfully listen to me and become a champion for our community. Do it not because it’s the economically beneficial thing to do, but because there is strength in diversity. Do it because we owe it to the human race to be kind to all.

To my hopefully future Hoosiers, we are not what you see in the media. We have significant champions here who are working tirelessly to bring equal resources and support to our LGBTQ community, our female counterparts, our racial minorities, our veterans, and our underserved.

When you shake your head at our state, you are shaking your head at a majority of people who do not agree with what you see in legislation or rhetoric. We are working to make Indiana a more inclusive state. But I need you to believe in our potential and move here. Come join me and our community and be visible. Make an impact in your own way, and I think you’ll be surprised at the support you will receive. Our culture is ours for the taking, and we want you here.

Hoosier hospitality is still alive and well. It just needs to come out of the closet.

Josh Driver is the founder of Selfless.ly

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