An alliance of corporations, including AT&T, Microsoft and Uber, backed by the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, is saber-rattling against Arizona and Alabama in a bid to head off bills that would restrict transgender people in such fields as youth participation in athletics and access to medical care.
But the state-targeted boycotts and divestments often end up hurting working-class voters or never materialize. And in states such as Alabama, where politically oriented divestments are almost routinely threatened, the latest campaign is received by some with little more than a shrug.
“Business growth and innovation rely on states being open and welcoming to everyone, including the LGBTQ community,” said Alphonso David, president of the D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign, a press statement Wednesday. “Harmful legislation such as the torrent of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced across the country deeply affect businesses’ ability to recruit and provide opportunities to their customers and employees.”
A bill gaining steam in the Alabama state House of Representatives would make it a Class C felony for doctors to prescribe hormone therapy or puberty blockers to transgender youth, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. In Arizona, the state’s Republican-controlled House has passed a bill requiring a genetic test for any transgender girl seeking to play in girls’ secondary school athletics.
Both bills much also pass the other house of the state legislature.
“We make complex decisions about where to invest and grow [and] these issues can influence our decisions,” said a letter issued Wednesday and signed by 40 companies, including Ben & Jerry’s, Capital One, Google and Salesforce. “These bills would harm our team members and their families, stripping them of opportunities and making them feel unwelcome and at risk in their own communities.”
The letter does not specifically mention the legislation in Alabama or Arizona, but instead says the offending bills are those “specifically targeting transgender youth.”
But both states have faced threats of retaliatory boycotts for socially conservative legislation before. Just nine months ago, #BoycottAlabama trended on Twitter as state officials from the Democratic comptroller of Maryland to the Colorado secretary of state called for business travel bans on Alabama organizations and businesses in the wake of the state’s near-total ban on abortion, a law later enjoined against in federal court.
Arizona also faced calls in 2010 over a controversial immigration law signed by then-GOP Gov. Jan Brewer cracking down on undocumented immigrant residents. The Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team faced protests on the road and the Arizona Beverage Company announced its drinks were made in New York.
On a press call Wednesday hosted by HRC, Jessica Shortall, an official with Freedom for All Americans, said LGBTQ-inspired state boycotts in recent years have resulted in an estimated $630 million lost by North Carolina after its passage of a so-called “bathroom bill” and the loss of “tens of millions” of dollars in convention visits by Indiana over a religious liberty law.
However, many economists doubt the effect of such politically motivated boycotts.
In 2012, for example, boycotts of Chick-fil-A for its CEO’s announced opposition to same-sex marriage spurred a so-called “buycott” of customer support that generated long lines for the company’s restaurants.
Alabama is home to only one Fortune 500 company — Regions Financial Corporation — while Arizona counts five, including PetSmart and waste management giant Republic Services.
Wednesday’s letter from business leaders offered no concrete steps for how a business boycott might unfold, but noted local companies could face problems attracting workers and investors if the bills become law.
PayPal reported it had 10,000 employees last year, with a large center in suburban Phoenix.
“[This bill] really puts businesses like ours at a competitive disadvantage,” said Tyler Conaway, a risk officer at PayPal and chair of PayPal Pride. “PayPal sees a real impact in trying to recruit in these states that have black-eyes for being noninclusive.”
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