(Update: 10:54 a.m. 6/5/2015) Correction: Map and report were released by the Movement Advancement Project. Changes reflected in the text.
By Michael Nam
High profile transgender individuals like Caitlyn Jenner or Laverne Cox have shown a great deal of progress in terms of attitudes towards gender identity in the U.S., but many states still lack strong legal protections for their transgender citizens, according to a report released by the Movement Advancement Project.
The “patchwork” of low or poor quality protections afforded by the laws in these states should be a warning to businesses in the post-Indiana RFRA era. Recruitment of talent in states that continue to be hostile or indifferent to LGBT citizenry will face stiffer challenges in an improving labor market, coupled with the influx of millennial workers with progressive views on LGBT issues.
Classification in the survey of each state is based on a point system that tallies positive and negative policies in six categories:
• Marriage and Relationship Recognition
• Adoption and Parenting
• Safe Schools
• Health and Safety
• Ability for Transgender People to Correct the Gender Marker on Identity Documents
Transgender rights in particular face the greatest hostility in the U.S., according to the policy tallies. The gender identity map marks 24 states as having negative policy tallies and 8 more with low policy tallies. Unsurprisingly, 8 of 9 states with high policy tally scores are located in the Northeast and on the West Coast.
The wide swath of states from the Midwest to the Southeast shows a remarkable level of hostility towards transgender people, and LGBT people in general, especially in the middle of rapid changes in views issues such as marriage equality.
Indiana’s attempt to pass a “religious freedom” act, which would have opened the door to religious discrimination of LGBT people, received a massive backlash from the public and businesses alike.
Yet even with pressure by local companies like Eli Lilly and Company, Anthem (formerly WellPoint), and Cummins, Nos. 24, 23, and 21, respectively, on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list speaking out against the original RFRA, the Republican legislature hardly seems anxious to improve their reputation an anti-LGBT state.
For transgender people, legislators continue to assault gender identity protections and accommodations. From the scandal-plagued Duggar family working against local efforts to accommodate transgender people in their hometown in Arkansas (which had a negative score for gender identity protections) and attempts in multiple states to bar transgender women from women’s restrooms, to the horrific violence that continues to afflict transgender women of color on a regular basis, states and businesses that refuse to update their public stances on issues of equality will have difficulty attracting the talent they need for success.
With the current optimism in terms of improving incomes, potential talent can focus on other factors in their employment decisions. Millennial workers particularly show less concern over high salaries compared to the concept of having meaningful work.
Coupled with their largely progressive views on gender identity and sexuality and the importance placed on the social reputation of a workplace, attracting top young talent becomes more than just an issue of monetary compensation.
Competing for the best talent is vital for businesses, and the states and municipalities in which they reside, for the economic “multiplier” effect illustrated by Enrico Moretti. The quality of the labor pool dictates the growth of success for both a company and the community. While it’s only a correlation, the fact that poor scoring states like Arkansas and Mississippi are among the lowest ranked in household median income should give legislators pause about the effects of anti-LGBT bigotry on local economic outcome.