Former Angie's List CEO forms tech coalition that will push for LGBT equal rights

Associated Press

The former head of Angie's List announced Thursday that he's formed a new tech industry coalition that will join a growing list of groups that are ratcheting up pressure on Indiana's Republican-dominated government to approve civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.

Founder and former Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle said in a news release that his new effort, called Tech for Equality, will push for legislation at both the municipal and state levels.

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"Within the tech community, there is fierce competition to find and hire the best qualified employees. Talent attraction is crucial to our success," said Oesterle. "We need to make it clear we do not tolerate discrimination and that Indiana is a welcoming state."

The group is the latest to emerge following a national uproar earlier this year when Indiana lawmakers and Gov. Mike Pence approved a religious objections law. Opponents said the law would sanction discrimination against the LGBT community, while social conservatives said it was needed to protect those with sincerely held religious belief about marriage, including wedding planners, photographers and bakers who may object to working with gay couples.

Indiana has no statewide discrimination protections for gays and lesbians, though a growing list of cities, including Indianapolis, have passed local laws.

A major player in business and political circles, Oesterle announced in April he was stepping down as leader of the Indianapolis-based consumer review company to become more involved in state politics and help repair the damage from the religious objections law. Oesterle hasn't said whether he'll seek office himself or support other candidates, although he did run former Gov. Mitch Daniels' 2004 campaign and gave at least $150,000 to Pence's 2012 campaign.

Tech for Equality spokeswoman Megan Robertson said the effort isn't so much a traditional campaign as it is a "platform" for Indiana's tech companies to make their voices heard. Those joining the effort will be announced in the coming weeks. She would not say how much money would be pumped into the effort.

"Bill has never shied away from putting his money where his mouth is," said Robertson, who declined to discuss any broader ambitions Oesterle may have.

Last week the anti-discrimination group Freedom Indiana, which was instrumental in blocking a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Indiana, launched its own campaign advocating for LGBT protections. And the Indianapolis Star newspaper has also said it will conduct a similar campaign through its opinion section, which is separate from the newsgathering side of operations.

But it's unclear whether Republican lawmakers who dominate the Statehouse are inclined to add LGBT protections to the state's civil rights laws.

In a statement, Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said the governor is "listening to people on all sides of the issue in order to determine how best to move forward."

Reached Thursday, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, declined to comment on the possibility or whether discussions with the Pence administration are ongoing. Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, did not respond to an interview request.