Gay rights groups pressure Amazon over HQ2 location

Gay rights groups pressure Amazon over HQ2 location
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LGBT groups are trying to use Amazon’s search for a city to build their second headquarters to push anti-discrimination efforts in states where those laws are not yet on the books.

A coalition of LGBT groups has launched a “No Gay, No Way” campaign, aimed at spotlighting the nine finalist cities in states that do not have anti-discrimination laws.

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The groups believe they can either force those states to change their laws in order to woo the mega-project, which is expected to be worth billions in economic activity, or cause them the heartache of losing Amazon’s high-paying jobs.

The campaign came to fruition in a matter of days after Amazon released its list of 20 finalist cities, those involved said. Among those running the effort are Kate Kendall, the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Conor Gaughan, a civil rights activist in Los Angeles.

“Given [Amazon’s] size, given their import in the current business climate, they have an incredible opportunity to send a signal that states that discriminate, states that don’t protect their citizens aren’t going to get the opportunity” to attract businesses like Amazon, Gaughan said in an interview.

Amazon is a major backer of LGBT causes. It is a corporate sponsor of the Human Rights Campaign, which is not formally a part of the No Gay, No Way campaign, and it lobbied against so-called bathroom bills in several states that would have prevented transgender people from using restroom or locker facilities that match their gender identity.

The company has a large contingent of LGBT employees who belong to what Amazon calls an “affinity group” called Glamazon.

“Companies like Amazon have a tremendous opportunity to incentivize progress by choosing locations that have firm state and local protections for LGBTQ people,” said Deena Fidas, director of the Workplace Equality Program at the Human Rights Campaign. “As municipal leaders around the country continue to step up to offer the protections these businesses are looking for, state lawmakers shouldn’t impede that progress by passing needless anti-LGBTQ bills that can hamstring this process.”

Among the finalist cities are Austin, Texas; Dallas; Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; Miami; Raleigh, N.C.; Indianapolis; and the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington. Texas, Georgia, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Indiana and Virginia all have no anti-discrimination laws in effect.

A hate crimes bill died this week in the Indiana state Senate. A new bathroom bill was introduced this week in the Tennessee legislature. The Ohio legislature is considering a new anti-discrimination law this week.

Amazon declined to comment on the record for this story. But the company’s request for proposal, to which the 20 finalists responded, includes a requirement for “a compatible cultural and community environment.”

“This includes the presence and support of a diverse population,” among other factors, a hint that pro-LGBT laws will be a factor in Amazon’s decision. The company would not say whether the absence of anti-discrimination laws on the books would be disqualifying for a city’s chances.

Some local civil rights groups said they worry the national effort to pressure Amazon and their states would mean they miss out on high-paying jobs at a company with a demonstrated record of pressuring lawmakers to pass proactive measures. 

Matt Hirschy, the executive director of Equality NC, said he wants Amazon to come to North Carolina despite the state’s recent debates over H.B. 2, the controversial bathroom bill. He laid blame at the feet of Republican leaders in the General Assembly who passed that law on a party-line vote — though he said his group, which has been involved in the fight against H.B. 2, had not been consulted about the pressure campaign on Amazon.

“The general assembly has made a reputation for itself for being regressive, of being anti-worker, of being anti-LGBTQ people,” Hirschy said in an interview. “We’ve got a lot of frankly anti-business legislation that this so-called pro-business legislature has decided to pass.”

Ford Porter, a spokesman for North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D), said a compromise between Cooper and legislative leaders that partially repealed H.B. 2 last year “was a major step in repairing our state’s reputation.” He pointed to executive orders Cooper has signed to extend nondiscrimination protections to employees and contractors who do business with the state.

“Amazon knows the progress we’ve made and what a great home North Carolina would make for [the headquarters]” Porter said in an email.

10 of the other 11 finalists are in states that have anti-discrimination laws in place: Los Angeles; Denver; Chicago; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; Newark, N.J.; New York City; Boston; Washington, D.C.; and Montgomery County, Md.

Toronto is the 20th city on Amazon’s list of finalists. Canada and Ontario both have non-discrimination laws in effect.

The stakes in the race for Amazon’s second headquarters are among the largest for any corporate relocation project in modern history. Amazon has said it will spend $5 billion on their new campus and employ 50,000 people, at an average salary of up to $100,000 a year. The company estimates billions more in related economic activity and thousands of new jobs in businesses like restaurants, apartments and dry cleaners to serve all those new employees.

Some of the finalists have publicly detailed the incentive packages they plan to offer in hopes of attracting the new jobs. Newark has detailed a $7 billion incentive plan. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has said he would offer a package of incentives and infrastructure spending worth $5 billion.

Most other cities and states have kept quiet about their incentive packages, as Amazon prepares to narrow its list of finalists. Some of those packages might include policy changes — something the outside pressure campaign hopes to encourage.

“As a North Carolinian, I want Amazon to come here,” Hirschy said. “I totally understand why other people are insisting they not.”