Amazon says there are eight factors that will inform its decision on where to build its new corporate headquarters, including favorable operating costs and a highly skilled local labor pool. But one of the factors, “a compatible cultural and community environment,” seems more symbolic than substantive, as some of the cities and states that are favorites for its future home, commonly called HQ2, are hotbeds of LGBTQ discrimination.
Nowhere is this dynamic more pronounced than in Georgia, where state lawmakers are promising to pass a religious liberty (RFRA) bill that will allow businesses to deny LGBTQ individuals employment or services, rendering them second-class citizens. Georgia has virtually no laws protecting its citizens from this sort of bigotry and a religious freedom bill would only add insult to injury.
This dangerous turn toward intolerance in Georgia and elsewhere has been categorically rejected by hundreds of corporations, including major tech companies whose executives have finally reached a consensus that they have a moral responsibility to society. Still, Georgia remains a leading contender for Amazon’s HQ2.
If social justice is truly a priority for Jeff Bezos, Amazon should establish an LGBTQ inclusivity litmus test for its new headquarters.
Announcing a litmus test would be a powerful statement directed at elected officials, clearly communicating that support for a discriminatory religious liberty law would automatically disqualify their state from a chance at winning the $5 billion investment from Amazon. Any politician that continues to push for these hateful policies will do so while having to publicly acknowledge that they are derailing any efforts to significantly improve the state’s economy, given that HQ2 promises to deliver 50,000 new jobs.
Cities like Austin and Atlanta, both of which have been listed as front-runners for HQ2, would be immediately out of the running.
An HQ2 litmus test would be a wake-up call to lawmakers in Texas, where RFRA legislation has been on the books for years. And it would seriously affect the future for LGBTQ individuals in Georgia, where the four GOP gubernatorial candidates have all signed a pledge to approve the religious liberty bill that lawmakers are promising to pass. Amazon has the power to cause these four candidates to retract their pledges, or face a backlash from their constituents who are hoping to see more jobs and economic opportunities.
The Request for Proposal document, which Amazon released to guide all bids, mentions that the eight decision drivers are not listed in any order of significance. That begs the question: Will Amazon prioritize its business interests over being on the right side of history?
A public admonishment of all RFRA bills and the implementation of a litmus test would offer a clear answer.
Amazon is in a unique position to take the lead in encouraging other major companies to fulfill their corporate moral responsibility to society. To build HQ2 in Austin, Atlanta or any other location where the LGBTQ community is under attack, would be to reward discrimination.
Mike Lux is the co-founder of consulting group Democracy Partners.