Leadership

Powerful Tech CEOs -- More Than Politicians, Advocates or Religious Leaders -- Are Driving the Debate Over LGBT Laws

Powerful Tech CEOs -- More Than Politicians, Advocates or Religious Leaders -- Are Driving the Debate Over LGBT Laws

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Image credit: Reuters | Robert Galbraith

The CEOs of elite tech behemoths are wielding their power to support the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals.

The glitterati of Silicon Valley tend to stay on the opposite side of the country both literally and metaphorically from Washington D.C. and its political machinations, but when the CEOs of some of the biggest tech companies in the country catch whiff of legislation that they don’t approve of, they aren’t afraid to coerce politicians with the weight of their very large pots of gold.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Equality NC just yesterday released a letter addressed to North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory demanding the repeal of HB 2, a law passed last week that requires transgender youth to use public restroom facilities for their biological gender. The letter was signed by more than 80 CEOs, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.

HB 2 is discriminatory and bad for business, the letter states. “The business community, by and large, has consistently communicated to lawmakers at every level that such laws are bad for our employees and bad for business,” the letter reads. “Discrimination is wrong, and we believe it has no place in North Carolina or anywhere in our country. As companies that pride ourselves on being inclusive and welcoming to all, we strongly urge you and the leadership of North Carolina’s legislature to repeal this law in the upcoming legislative session.”

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Further, the law will make it harder for these companies to recruit talent to work in North Carolina for their companies, the letter says.

McCrory, for his part, argues that the law protects basic privacy. “I signed bipartisan legislation to stop the breach of basic privacy and etiquette, ensure privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms,” he tweeted out last week amidst fierce debate over the law. Supporters of the legislation say that requiring transgender people to use the restroom for their biological gender is an issue of safety. “Thank NC Governor Pat McCrory and Legislative Leaders for fighting to keep our children safe and passing a common-sense law to stop grown men from sharing locker rooms and bathrooms with young girls,” reads the homepage of a group supporting the legislation and soliciting donations to support the cause.

Meanwhile, human rights advocates are calling the legislation a “heinous measure” that puts transgender youth in danger. “Gov. McCrory’s reckless decision to sign this appalling legislation into law is a direct attack on the rights, well-being, and dignity of hundreds of thousands of LGBT North Carolinians and visitors to the state,” said HRC President Chad Griffin, in a statement released by the advocacy group after the H2 was passed. “This outrageous new law not only strips away the ability of local jurisdictions to protect LGBT people from discrimination, but it goes further and targets transgender students who deserve to be treated equally at school -- not harassed and excluded. Gov. McCrory’s action will be judged sorely by history and serve as a source of deep shame, remorse, and regret."

The controversy over HB 2 comes fresh on the heels of a controversy in North Carolina’s southern neighbor, Georgia, in which the giant hulking fists of the tech and entertainment industries forced the hand of politicians in the Peach State.

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A law passed by Georgia state lawmakers, HB 757, made it legal for religious leaders to object to perform marriage ceremonies of same-sex couples. The bill also would have protected religious-based organizations and businesses from being obligated to operate on “rest days.”

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff threatened to reduce investments in the state if the law wasn’t vetoed. “Salesforce has been recognized as one of Atlanta’s top places to work. Our success is fundamentally based on our ability to attract and retain the best and most diverse pool of highly skilled employees, regardless of race, sex, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or any other classification protected by applicable laws,” wrote Warren Wick, the senior vice president of Salesforce in Atlanta in a letter to the members of the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives. “Without an open business environment that welcomes all residents and visitors, Salesforce will be unable to continue building on its tradition of innovation in Georgia.” Opposition also came from Disney and Marvel, among others.

That letter from Salesforce was written on March 2. By March 28, the governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, had vetoed the law.

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To be sure, Deal delivered a detailed soliloquy about how his vetoing the bill was only because he did not consider it necessary to protect religious liberty within his state. “Some within the business community who oppose this bill have resorted to threats of withdrawing jobs from our state. I do not respond well to insults or threats,” Deal said when he announced he would veto the bill. “Our actions on HB 757 are not just about protecting the faith-based community or providing a business-friendly climate for job growth in Georgia. This is about the character of our State and the character of its people.”

Perhaps, perhaps. Either way, Salesforce cheered the veto and affirmed it would continue doing business in Georgia.

Tomorrow, HRC President Chad Griffin and Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro will personally deliver the letter bearing the weight of the Silicon Valley tech elite to North Carolina Gov. McCrory over HB 2.  

It will be interesting to see how McCrory defends his undoubtedly imminent decision to repeal HB 2.