When Should Your Company Take a Stand Against LGBT Bias?

In the face of a groundswell of proposed state laws discriminating against LGBT people, what should inclusive companies do?

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 The chamber rescinded that support after DiversityInc and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) asked the corporations how they could support this.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.

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