Indiana’s new discriminatory law against gays and lesbians won’t interfere with upcoming trade show.
Gen Con, the largest and most important tabletop trade show in the U.S., has shown its threats towards the Indiana government to be toothless. In an attempt to discourage Indiana Governor Mike Pence from signing bill SB 101 into law, Gen Con organizers warned that the show, which generates $50 million annually for the state, might move elsewhere in response. The bill was signed anyway. And Gen Con is staying at least through 2020 to fulfill its contract.
SB 101 is bigotry disguised as a safeguard for “religious freedom.” If the owner of a company has religious beliefs that demand discrimination against the LGBT community, then they have the legal right to do so. If you interpret the bible to mean that being gay is a sin, then you can legally discriminate against an employee or customer who is gay or lesbian. To be clear, many states do not have laws that specifically protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. This, however, is a law passed to directly allow and even encourage such discrimination.
Gen Con CEO Adrian Swartout released a letter to the tabletop community explaining the decision and rationalizing the choice to support a state with a law that discriminates against 10% of the population. “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,” the letter read in part. And it is unlikely that any attendee of Gen Con will suffer discrimination as a direct result of this law. That, however, is not the point.
This law is an insult to common human decency. The tabletop community is a diverse one. This affects a large number of people we game with, who buy games, who read game blogs and watch board game videos on YouTube. It doesn’t matter that for one week everyone can drink from the same water fountain. The law exists and will continue to exist as long as we make excuses for it.
To back down from challenging this law is to say to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters that they don’t have our support. In its best light, tabletop gaming is an open place, where everyone has an equal seat. I’m straight, but I can’t imagine what it would feel like to go to something as big and meaningful as Gen Con knowing I was in a state whose leadership resented my presence. And that the organizers of Gen Con were okay with that, because of a misguided belief that if someone isn’t refused service than everything’s a-OK.
Discrimination isn’t just about direct persecution. Even if no company takes on the ability to deny service to someone who is gay or lesbian, this law is a statement that the LGBT community is “other.” They are not other. Not at my gaming table and I’d hope not at yours. They are “us” and that is all anyone should be. If any of our members feel unsafe or unwelcome because of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their sexual orientation, we as a whole should be outraged. We can’t be passive or we are complicit in the ugly message of this law. It’s not right. It’s not good. And our community doesn’t belong anywhere near a state that would allow this kind of hate.
In fairness to Gen Con, they have a contract. Cancelling contracts usually comes with a penalty. And the logistics of moving Gen Con somewhere else this year would be challenging. But not impossible. And likely not lacking in support from just about every publisher and attendee. Sometimes standing up for what’s right is hard or costly. It shouldn’t matter when it’s the right thing to do.
Money moves the world. Sorry proponents of democracy, but your vote means far less than the bills in your wallet. When we withhold our money from a company or a state, the impact almost always forces a change.
Of course, Gen Con is not the only major business event in Indiana. The NFL draft combine is held in the state every year. The NCAA Tournament’s Final Four will be held in Indianapolis next week. Other industries will need to speak out too. But this feels more immediate, more important, and more central to the tabletop industry than to most others.
The gaming community is about as inclusive as it gets. I’ve seen so many people from diverse lifestyles coming together to game, and almost all of them accepted by others across the table. That’s why this issue seems so important for our community, because it impacts people we care about, who are one of us. And so, we have to stand up for them.
Gen Con backed off. We should not. Game publishers need to take a stand for their customers, for their friends, for their community. It needs to be public. It needs to be a sacrifice. And it needs to be genuine. Whether that means pulling out of Gen Con despite the financial risk or hosting a walkout on day one to march against this law -- every game publishers owes it to the community to take a stand of some kind.
Gen Con’s response was timid. Indiana’s legislature should be condemned, not placated.
I know that there are millions who live in Indiana opposed to this bill. I know Gen Con supporters and all the thousands who will attend this year are equally against this law. But saying you’re against something and standing up for what is right are two different things.
If you choose to attend Gen Con, I won’t hold it against you. If you’re a games publisher and feel you have no choice but to attend such an important trade show, I won’t hold it against you. But if you have the courage to stand up and speak – in whatever manner that might be – know that I’ll be beside you.
Dog and Thimble will not be attending Gen Con this year, which may serve as a major blow to our ability to grow this site into something substantial. We’ll have to live with missing out on making new contacts, seeing new games, and reporting on the hot buzz from the show floor. I can’t give money to the state of Indiana when it has targeted members of our amazingly inclusive community. I won’t.