Texas employers say anti-LGBTQ legislation is bad for business

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Fifty-five companies and business associations signed a letter opposing anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in Texas this year.

Texas employers and business organizations have signed a letter speaking out against anti-LGBTQ legislation introduced in the state this year. They expressed worry over how lawmakers' targeting of the rights of transgender youth would affect the companies' ability to keep current workers in the state and persuade prospective employees to live there.

The letter was signed by 55 members of the Texas Competes coalition of organizations and companies, "a partnership of business leaders committed to a Texas that is economically vibrant and welcoming of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people," and whose members are "united by the recognition of the business case for equality in our state and our communities, and a desire to keep Texas competitive and economically vibrant," according to its website.

The letter reads in part, "We are concerned to see a resurgence of efforts to exclude transgender youth from full participation in their communities, to criminalize or ban best-practice medical care that is proven to save lives, or to exclude LGBTQ people in a variety of other settings, including accessing healthcare, filling a prescription, or seeking legal representation."

It adds, "Such legislation would send a message that is at odds with the Texas we know, and with our own efforts to attract and retain the best talent and to compete for business. We will continue to oppose any unnecessary, divisive measures that would damage Texas’ reputation and make our customers, our visitors, and our employees and their families feel unwelcome or unsafe."

Apple, Facebook, Southwest Airlines, Unilever, Dell Technologies, Marriott International, and the Austin Chamber of Commerce are among the signatories of the letter.

Jessica Shortall, the managing director of Texas Competes, told the American Independent Foundation that all its members have a presence in Texas and are Texas employers.

"Some employ thousands or tens of thousands of Texans, others fewer but still have people and interests in the state and whether and how everyone can feel that they and their families are safe and welcome in the state," Shortall said.

Shortall said it's unclear how many employers would move offices or stop expanding as a result of the passage of any anti-LGBTQ bills but that some large employers say that the increased need for employees to work remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic along with LGBTQ people's concerns about living in Texas could lead to "growth outside the state."

By April 2021, Texas had introduced more anti-LGBTQ bills this session than any other state, a Human Rights Campaign analysis found.

Ricardo Martinez, the CEO of Equality Texas, stated on Tuesday, "More than half of the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in 2021 aims to exclude transgender children from normal school activities and ban their access to life-saving, age-appropriate, and best-practice health care."

During Texas' regular legislative session, Republican lawmakers introduced bills that would ban transgender student athletes from playing on the sports team of their gender; define gender-affirming care, such as puberty blockers and hormone treatment, as child abuse; and stop allowing liability insurance policies for doctors to cover physicians who provide gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

Although those bills weren't enacted during the regular session, Texas families have said they're concerned about anti-trans legislation that has been proposed in special sessions of the Texas Legislature called by Gov. Greg Abbott (R). S.B. 2, a trans sports ban that covers both K-12 schools and colleges and universities, and S.B. 32, which applies to K-12 sports, passed the Texas Senate in July.

S.B. 2 has been referred to the House Public Education Committee. On Tuesday, the committee held a public hearing on the bill: Lawmakers reportedly began discussing the bill at 8 p.m., and testimony went on until 6 a.m. the next morning.

Before the hearing, during a press conference held by Equality Texas, several parents of transgender children spoke out against S.B. 2.

Lisa Stanton, the mother of a transgender girl, said in a voice wavering with emotion that she doesn't want to leave the state but that the continued introduction of anti-trans bills was forcing her family to consider it.

Rebecca Bryant, whose daughter is transgender, raised the issue of Abbott's focusing the special session on issues such as transgender sports bans instead of on pressing problems such as the pandemic and Texas' power grid. Referring to winter storms in February that knocked out power and cut off water supplies to thousands of Texans, reportedly killing as many as 700 people, Bryant said, "My great-aunt, who was born on the island of Galveston, died because of the freeze in February, and yet you'd rather steer from the real problems Texans face and bully an 8-year-old."

David Najjab, director of institutional partnerships at Gearbox Software, a company based in Texas, said during Equality Texas's press conference that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric could force his company to expand their business outside the state.

He said, "Texas should be a good place to come, and a friendly place. That is who Texans are, and that's what our reality should be. I hope this bill is killed."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.