Corporate America’s Gay-Rights Moment

Corporate America’s Gay-Rights Moment

When North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a law last month barring local governments from enacting LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances or bathroom accommodations for transgender people, ostensibly on the basis of protecting religious freedom, the outcry from LGBT advocates came just as quickly as Republicans in the state legislature had acted to write and pass the law. It wasn’t only activists decrying the new law, however; businesses, including major employers in the state, were also deeply troubled by it, as David Graham observed in the Atlantic:

On Wednesday, as the bill was being considered, Dow Chemical, Biogen, and Raleigh-based software company Red Hat all opposed it. Others have since added their voices, including IBM, American Airlines, PayPal, and Apple. … The NBA, in a statement, suggested it might reconsider plans to host the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte. The NCAA also suggested the law might cause it to change plans to hold elements of its annual college-basketball tournament and other events in the Old North State—a move that could resonate in this hoops-crazed state.

Businesses are also putting their money where their mouths are in opposing what they view as pro-discrimination legislation; Lionsgate Films pulled production for a new Hulu series from Charlotte this week, according to the Charlotte Observer, and CNN Money reports that PayPal is canceling plans to open a facility there:

PayPal says it will no longer open its facility in Charlotte, which was expected to employ 400 people. PayPal had announced its plans to open the operations center only two weeks ago. “Becoming an employer in North Carolina, where members of our teams will not have equal rights under the law, is simply untenable,” PayPal CEO Dan Schulman said in a statement. “The new law perpetuates discrimination and it violates the values and principles that are at the core of PayPal’s mission and culture.”

Southern conservative Republicans may not care what liberals from Hollywood and San Francisco think of their moral values, but if this business backlash ends up costing North Carolina a significant number of jobs, McCrory, who is up for re-election this year, will have that much harder a time defending his record as a job creator. Just days after McCrory signed the bill into law, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a similar measure that would have allowed faith-based organizations to deny jobs or services to LGBT individuals, which had also drawn heavy criticism from large employers:

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said the company “can’t have a program in Georgia” if the bill were to become law. Disney said it would stop filming in the state, and Unilever said it would “reconsider investment” if the legislation were signed. Coca-Cola spoke out against the bill, as did Home Depot and several other Fortune 500 companies based in Atlanta.

Now, Mississippi has just enacted an anti-LGBT law of its own, and sure enough, Kate Gibson observes at CBS MoneyWatch, many local employers are unhappy about it:

[Governor Phil] Bryant had been urged to veto the measure by the 2,100-member Mississippi Manufacturers Association, or MMA. … MGM Resorts, which employs about 4,400 people at two resorts in the state — Beau Rivage in Biloxi and Gold Strike Casino Resort in Tunica — said it was disappointed that the legislation had become law and warned that it would hurt tourism and the state’s economy. …

Nissan, which employs about 6,500 people at an assembly plant in Canton, Mississippi, said the law runs counter to its principles. “It is Nissan’s policy to prohibit discrimination of any type, and we oppose any legislation that would allow discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals,” the automaker said in an emailed statement. Another large employer in Mississippi, Huntington Ingalls Industries, also objected, saying it’s “committed to creating an inclusive environment where diversity is not only respected, but is considered to be of value. Therefore we do not support any efforts, including legislation, that does not support that.”

The opposition to anti-LGBT discrimination among American business leaders is so broad, Washington Post columnist Jena McGregor points out, that it “appears to have reached a tipping point, one where so many companies have taken a stand on the issue that the risk of speaking out has been superseded by the risk of not doing so.” McGregor looks at how and why this shift has taken place:

Public sentiment surely is playing a role. A recent survey by Public Religion Research Institute finds that 71 percent of Americans support laws that would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in jobs, housing and public accommodations. Data from the Pew Research Center recently found that 55 percent of Americans, and 70 percent of millennials, support same-sex marriage.

But Deena Fidas, the director of the workplace equality program at Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for gay rights, describes the now commonplace public support from companies as the result of more than a decade of outreach between the LGBT and corporate communities. “It’s perfectly understandable for the casual observer to look at North Carolina and think it’s trendy now to be pro-LGBT,” she said in an interview Monday. “But there’s a very strong structure behind this outreach.”