The US is currently seeing a wave of anti-LGBT bills being introduced by lawmakers.
Many of these bills are concerned with ensuring that business owners with strong religious beliefs are legally permitted to refuse service to LGBT customers.
Although it is those companies that have refused to provides services for same-sex marriages that have been making headlines, businesses that are happy to support all sections of the community are now making themselves heard.
This month, Human Rights Campaign has launched its ‘Equality is Our Business’ in Nebraska, Arkansas and Alabama – encouraging businesses that welcome gay patronage to display stickers carrying the campaign message.
At the same time, a similar initiative has sprung up at a grassroots level in Indiana, where businesses that are happy to serve everyone have begun to display stating a sticker stating: ‘Open for service – service for everyone’.
Technology entrepreneur and business consultant, Josh Driver [pictured], launched the ‘Open for Service’ campaign.
Driver, who is gay and lives in Indianapolis with his partner, previously ran a non-profit organization – the Purple Hat Project – to lobby for marriage equality in the state. Once that was achieved, Purple Hat was wound down. However, when Driver began to read about businesses refusing services to same-sex couples wishing to marry, he felt moved again to act.
Rather than target those businesses that refused gay customers, he felt it important to celebrate those that are keen to serve everyone.
‘I feel that the key for LGBT community is to provide inclusiveness. We have a lot of straight allies – some Republican and Christian – who actually believe in LGBT equality,’ he told Gay Star Business.
We spoke to Driver just days after a ‘Religious Freedom’ bill was passed by an Indiana House committee (by a 40-10 majority). If it becomes law, it will allow business owners to cite religious belief in refusing LGBT customers.
The SB 101 Religious Freedom Restoration Act – which uses language so broad that opponents believe it will entitle anyone to refuse to serve LGBT customers in any business setting – now passes to the Indiana House for consideration.
Indiana Republican Governor Mike Pence has already indicated that he will sign it if it reaches him for approval.
‘The negativity from both sides has gotten so irrational and vitriolic that it felt like I needed to do something that took the focus off these businesses that are discriminating – and getting all this free media attention – and hopefully try to counter that with something good,’ says Driver.
‘I wanted to provide a directory of businesses that are not going to turn away people because of their differences. And the sticker allows them to take care of that conversation on the storefront. Without discussion, I know automatically I can go in there without being turned away.’
The campaign’s website, openforservice.org, expands on this message, stating: ‘We don’t have any agenda. We’re not interested in talking about businesses practicing discrimination; we’re promoting businesses that practice acceptance and tolerance of everyone!
‘We don’t plan on having a staff, or office location, or huge overhead. We want to build an expanding nationwide network of open-minded organizations, companies, and business owners recognition for doing the right thing.’
Businesses can buy the sticker for $10, which also entitles them to be listed on the website’s directory. Driver says that proceeds, after sticker costs are covered, will be given to SCORE, a US-wide network for small business owners.
The website went online last Wednesday. To Driver’s surprise, in little over a week, he’s already had 300 businesses contact him. Most of these are from the Indianapolis area but from others further afield. In total, he’s sending stickers out to 12 states so far and is happy to send them out to any business nationwide that gets in touch.
One of those supporting ‘Open for Service’ is Indianapolis gift store Silver in the City. Its owner, Kristin Kohn, told the IndyStar why she had ordered a sticker.
‘Nobody would be turned away from patronizing our business based on who they are or what they believe.
‘I want all of our visitors to feel welcome in Indianapolis. It’s a fight back at what I believe to be a very negative image that the rest of the nation might feel toward Indiana based on this bill.’