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When Should Your Company Take a Stand Against LGBT Bias?

The news that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a bill prohibiting local governments from passing anti-discriminatory measures offers a clear lesson to inclusive corporations about when—and how—they should get involved.

The new law, aimed squarely at the LGBT community, is an example of a groundswell in several states from the religious right to pass laws that endanger human rights and discriminate against this one group in particular. Several corporations, including three on the DiversityInc Top 50 and two on the DiversityInc 25 Noteworthy Companies lists, got caught in the crossfire in Tennessee. They were members of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce that supported this bill. The chamber rescinded that support after DiversityInc and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) asked the corporations how they could support this. 

Why did the chamber—and the leading diversity companies among its corporate members, including AT&T, KPMG, Whirlpool, Pfizer and Comcast—approve this in the first place? Some of the companies said their local members voted against it. One told DiversityInc that they “didn’t realize” the anti-LGBT focus of this legislation because it was part of a larger document on standardizing state regulations. When they became aware of what the legislation intended, all of these companies and several others issued public statements denouncing the legislation, leading to the chamber reversing its position.

This case raises two critical points for corporations with very public values of inclusion. The first is the need to be extremely careful—especially at local levels—that everything that is signed off on by any representative of the company coincides with the organization’s stated values. The second is publicly taking the next step: actively fighting this type of legislation in every state. Anti-LGBT legislation is surfacing in several states, and no organization that calls itself a diversity leader should allow these bills to become laws.

Since the Tennessee battle appears to be over, DiversityInc asked the HRC where the next battlegrounds are.

The HRC’s response:

Minnesota: The Minnesota House passed a proposal to place a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on the 2012 ballot.

Indiana: Indiana lawmakers approved a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman and would prohibit the state from enacting civil unions or domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. The proposed amendment will be on 2014 ballots if legislators once again approve the proposal in the 2013–2014 legislative session.

North Carolina: North Carolina has an anti-LGBT marriage amendment that has been introduced in both the state house and senate (SB 106/HB777) that could prohibit all forms of legal relationship recognition for gay and lesbian couples.

Texas: The Texas State Senate is considering legislation that would prevent district clerks from accepting a court order recognizing a sex change as a legal document for a marriage license. The House passed a budget bill containing a provision requiring public universities with a student center on “alternative sexuality”, i.e., an LGBT center, to provide equal funding to create new centers to promote “traditional values.”

Here are some diversity-management resources DiversityInc Top 50 companies have to help them in this battle:

  • Support from the top. All of the DiversityInc Top 50 CEOs ensure diversity is included in the corporate mission statement; 96 percent of them have quotes on the value of diversity from the CEOs on their homepage. Watch our diversity councils webinar for DiversityInc Top 50 Best Practices.
  • Clear and consistent messaging. All have anti-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation; 96 percent have anti-discrimination policies that include gender identity. All employees should be informed about these policies and repercussions for failing to adhere to them. For information on diversity training, visit www.BestPractices.DiversityInc.com/training.
  • Use of employee-resource groups. All of the DiversityInc Top 50 have LGBT (and ally) resource groups, up from 63 percent five years ago. These groups are valuable conduits to the community and keep leaders aware of legislative and other external concerns. Ninety percent of DiversityInc Top 50 CEOs meet regularly with ERG leaders. For information on employee-resource groups, visit www.BestPractices.DiversityInc.com/ergs and also see our webinar on employee-resource groups, featuring Aetna and MasterCard.

10 Comments

  • Every company and every individual should actively oppose these kinds of legislation, because it is the right thing to do.

  • I think the states listed above with such legislation should remove all legislation that provides a perc for a married person. Same goes for the Federal government. If there are people who can not marry, then eliminate the percs the married people are given. It is the only fair solution that won’t step on religious toes.

  • I work for a company that is based out of North Carolina, tho I work in Illinois.
    wonder how thatr will pan out if House bill (SB 106/HB777) goes through

  • Anonymous

    There is no reason to have any problem with homosexual people or activities unless an old book told you about it. Even then, you have to select that particular activity special over lots of other good stuff like, “love your neighbor.” The Bible condones slavery as well, but Christians understand that’s a bad thing. In the near future homophobes will properly be placed in the same category as racists. Don’t hate.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a straight female with a 22 year old daughter. I’m astounded to read this article and to hear what the religious right has planned. This is a form of hatred cloaked in righteousness! Please let us know what we can do to stop this racist behavior.

  • It is heart warming to see the business community take their as a community stewardship seriously. For 20 years I have been working as an LGBT educator and consultant, when asked by business leaders, “What can we do to help end bias?” I often encourage them to have their lobbyists at the State (and National) level simply mention to elected officials, that anti-LGBT policies are bad for business. When elected officials hear this from business leaders it is a powerful statement.

  • Anonymous

    It is nice to see how DiversityInc gets this important message out to people who otherwise may not realize what those of us in the gay community face every day. It is nice to see support for equality from those who fall outside a targeted demographic, but I’m always flabergasted at how shocked some people are that this right wing hatred is driving legislation all over the country. Main stream media just isn’t interested.

  • As a conservative (libertarian), I believe all individuals have the right to be respected and treated as equals and to live their lives in peace. NO discrimination is ok, and I’m tired of conservatives that believe in equality only for some. As a Christian, I believe we should not only accept all others, but love them as well. If a person is not hurting others, I don’t believe any government or individual should be permitted to place unconstitutional restrictions on his or her life. I also think this should extend to polygamists. Just because I couldn’t live that life doesn’t make it wrong. May God bless everyone, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation or marital preferences.

  • Anonymous

    Regarding LGBT discussion, you seem to only want one point of view here. I believe that most people do not discriminate against LGBT peole. However, it is apparent to me that most people are uncomfortable with LGBT people. That is simply human nature. I believe over time people can change, but forcing one’s will over people will delay this change. The needs of few, do not outweigh the needs of the many. I suppose you will take issue with this, but remember there are always two sides, always.

  • As I read in another magazine, LGBT Anti bias policies are not meant to change one’s personal held beliefs. It is so that everyone is treated the same. If I brought a Crucifix and wrealth to work and started smacking someone surely I would hope security or management would throw me out.

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