In a special session this week, the Texas state legislature is expected to debate a proposed “bathroom bill,” which would require transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificates rather than their expressed gender in public buildings, including public schools. LGBT advocates have decried the bill, similar to legislation proposed in North Carolina last year, as discriminatory and harmful to trans people, especially students in public schools. A number of major companies have also spoken out against the bill: In May, a group of tech CEOs including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, IBM’s Ginni Rometty, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Google’s Sundar Pichai sent a joint letter to Governor Greg Abbott, urging him to withdraw his support for the bill.
As the legislature draws closer to voting on the bill, IBM is stepping up its lobbying campaign against it, and major Texas-based companies are adding their voices to the chorus of employers asking legislators to discard it, J. Weston Phippen reports at the Atlantic:
IBM is the latest major company to step up its fight against Texas’s bathroom bill, which lawmakers will likely debate in the coming week as they work through a special session. IBM sent an internal memo Monday to employees around the world that called the bill discriminatory. The company also dispatched about 20 executives to persuade lawmakers against passing the bill. …
Texas is the latest US state to consider a “bathroom bill” in its state legislature, which would require transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificates rather than their expressed gender. In yet another sign of their growing political influence, a group of major tech company CEOs sent a joint letter to Governor Greg Abbott this weekend, decrying the legislation as discriminatory and urging him to abandon it, Engadget reported on Monday:
“As large employers in the state, we are gravely concerned that any such legislation would deeply tarnish Texas’ reputation as open and friendly to businesses and families”, begins the tech companies’ letter to Abbott. “Our ability to attract, recruit and retain top talent, encourage new business relocations, expansions and investment, and maintain our economic competitiveness would all be negatively affected.”
“Discrimination is wrong and it has no place in Texas or anywhere in our country,” the letter continues. “Our perspective is grounded in our values and our long-held commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
The signatories to the letter include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, IBM’s Ginni Rometty, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Google’s Sundar Pichai, along with chief executives or presidents from ten other major tech companies. The decision by these CEOs to wade into the controversy in Texas is reminiscent of how they and other large companies banded together to oppose similar legislation in North Carolina last year. While the companies represented in the letter don’t directly threaten to scale back their business operations in Texas because of the law, other organizations have done so, the Associated Press reports:
Two weeks ago, US President Donald Trump rescinded a directive issued by former president Barack Obama last year asserting that schools throughout the country could not force transgender students to use restrooms designated for the gender they were assigned at birth without violating federal anti-discrimination laws. Obama’s order was already held up in court and faced an uncertain fate, but Trump’s reversal of the previous administration’s position has also proven controversial; although the policy in question concerns schools, not workplaces, many private companies, particularly Silicon Valley tech giants, issued statements opposing Trump’s decision to withdraw these protections for transgender children, though as Engadget’s Andrew Tarantola observed, these companies did not respond as forcefully to this event as they did last April when North Carolina passed its hotly debated “bathroom bill”:
When asked for comment, a Google spokesperson replied “We’ve long advocated for policies that provide equal rights and treatment for all. We’re deeply concerned to see a roll-back in transgender students’ rights.” Facebook, which gently chastised the Trump administration over its immigration ban, told us that it “is a strong supporter of equality. We stand for ensuring equal rights for everyone, including transgender students, and will continue to advocate for more rights instead of fewer.” …
These statements are noticeably less forceful than those following the passage of HB2 in North Carolina, a law that required people to use the restroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in government buildings. In the wake of that controversy, everyone from the NCAA to Bruce Springsteen, PayPal to Apple vowed to boycott the state. There is little indication that these companies, aside from GitHub, have plans to take proactive steps in response to this announcement.
Last week, meanwhile, 53 companies including tech giants like Amazon, Apple, IBM, and Microsoft signed an amicus brief in the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender high school student who sued his local school board for the right to use the boy’s restroom after he was told he could not. The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would not hear the case after all, and sent it back to the lower court to reconsider in light of the new administration’s directives, but the companies’ brief is still notable for the arguments it makes, including that corporate America has an interest in ensuring that schools teach acceptance and inclusion to prepare students to work in increasingly diverse and inclusive workplaces:
At the LSE Business Review, organizational behavior and human resource management professor Jonathan Booth summarizes some recent research he and several colleagues conducted into why transgender people tend not to have their voices heard in the workplace:
In a recent paper, we analysed the website content of FTSE 100 companies in search of references to transgender individuals. We find that only 17 per cent of these firms refer directly to transgender individuals in their employer branding, diversity and value statements, illustrating the extent to which trans voices are largely unheard within UK workplaces.
Booth and his coauthors posit several reasons why this might be so: Trans people may refrain from speaking up to protect themselves or may prefer to simply “pass” as cisgender, while their issues are usually placed under a broader “LGBT” umbrella. Also, many trans people work in low-skill and low-wage jobs that don’t afford them the opportunity to voice their needs and concerns in the workplace.
In light of these various challenges, Booth urges employers to “strive to be proactive in implementing direct voice mechanisms for transgender employees”: