As we move closer to the 2022 midterm elections, it’s clear that culture wars are back bigger than ever in American politics. The culture wars of this political cycle focus on issues concerning civil rights, diversity, equality, and inclusion — the very factors DEI professionals deal with every day.
Here are some areas of concern for most people working in the field, along with why they matter from both a personal and business perspective.
Laws Dialing Back LGBTQ Equality
Florida’s recently passed and widely criticized “Don’t Say Gay” bill was just one of many anti-LGBTQ measures to emerge from 2021 — a year so mired in anti-equality acts and legislation that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) labeled it as “the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history.”
According to HRC’s estimates, more than 250 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures in 2021 and dozens were passed including anti-trans sports bans, religious refusal bills, anti-LGBTQ education bills, anti-trans medical care bans, and even an anti-trans birth certificate bill.
This year doesn’t seem to be getting off to a much better start when it comes to matters involving LGBTQ diversity, equity, inclusion, or representation in the workplace, schools or communities as a whole — both big and small — across the nation.
For many, the high-water mark for LGBTQ acceptance and equality was 2015 when marriage equality passed and gay and lesbian Americans were given the right to marry. Since then, however, anti-LGBTQ forces have been gradually working to take away those rights.
NBC News reported that “nearly 670 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed since 2018, according to an NBC News analysis of data from the American Civil Liberties Union and LGBTQ advocacy group Freedom for All Americans, with nearly all of the country’s 50 state legislatures having weighed at least one bill.”
The number of anti-LGBTQ bills filed throughout that time has increased from 41 bills in 2018 to 238 bills so far in 2022, NBC News added.
To put that number in perspective, that means that anti-LGBTQ bills are being proposed at the rate of more than three bills per day. And more than half of those bills target the rights of trans people.
Bipartisan nondiscrimination political education group Freedom for All Americans has established a database of the dozens of anti-LGBTQ measures currently pending across the country.
- More than 15 bills like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill which restrict how textbooks, school curriculums and teachers themselves can deal with LGBTQ topics including gender identity and sexual orientation.
- A Tennessee bill banning anything aimed at children that “promotes, normalizes, supports, or addresses LGBTQ lifestyles.
- A Kansas bill that would amend the state’s obscenity law to make using classroom materials depicting “homosexuality” a Class B misdemeanor.
- An Indiana law preventing educators from discussing “sexual orientation,” “transgenderism” or “gender identity” in any context without permission from parents.
Sticking to Sports
Limiting trans athletes of all ages from participating in sports has been another popular subject for anti-equality forces. In February of 2022, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed the first-ever anti-transgender sports bill into law, restricting transgender women and girls from playing on school sports teams that match their gender identity in public schools and post-secondary institutions.
A month later, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a similar bill into law in the state. More than 50 other similar bills around the nation are also still pending legislative approval.
Outside of schools, a shocking number of states are also still dealing with laws concerning where transgender individuals can go to the bathroom, when it is legally permitted to refuse to hire an LGBTQ individual or provide a service (such as selling them a cake or allowing them to live in a retirement center), and even the legality of so called conversion therapy for gays, a practice even the American Psychological Association has condemned for a number of years.
While these are obvious civil and human rights issues, how a company’s views and practices around LGBTQ issues translate to business success is worth noting. In its ongoing “Why Diversity Matters” series, McKinsey & Company argues that LGBTQ DEI is an ongoing and proven business imperative, leading to stronger leadership, better-performing workforces and increased profitability.
LGBTQ diversity and inclusion has also been a consistent component of our DiversityInc Top 50 rankings, with the top companies for LGBTQ employees being one of the number of lists we unveil each spring.
As former HRC President Alphonso David has said, hiring and retaining LGBTQ employees, supporting these employees with employee resource groups and working to promote and protect the rights of these individuals is just good business sense.
“These companies know that protecting their LGBTQ employees and customers from discrimination is not just the right thing to do — it is also the best business decision,” he said.
Laws Limiting Women’s Healthcare and Right to Choose
Roe v. Wade has ensured that women have control over their bodies for 49 years. But as the highly controversial anti-abortion Texas bill SB 8 has shown, that right could be taken away, and it could happen later this year. The Texas Heartbeat Act, as the legislation is commonly known, bans abortion as soon as detection of an embryo’s heartbeat is possible, or at about six weeks into a woman’s pregnancy.
SB 8 was signed into law last year by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and after a swift series of legal challenges is now resting with the Supreme Court, which is expected to issue its judgment on the case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization early this summer.
Still, even with Roe v. Wade hanging on by a string — and many women’s rights advocates worried that it will be struck down — that hasn’t stopped legislatures in other states from attempting to enact similar and, in some cases, even more restrictive laws limiting women’s healthcare rights and abortion access. Here are a few that are making headlines:
- In Florida, the state legislature has voted to ban abortions after 15 weeks — a decision experts predict could impact abortion access across much of the south.
- Idaho is following the six-week ban established in Texas and has also added a clause to their law which would allow family members of the fetus (including those involved in cases of rape) to sue healthcare workers and doctors who might perform an abortion for $20,000 per successful lawsuit.
- Missouri lawmakers have also adapted the Texas model for their proposed anti-abortion bill while adding provisions that would force pregnant women to carry ectopic pregnancies (where a fertilized egg gets stuck on its way to the uterus) to full term, potentially risking the life of the mother. A recently proposed amendment to the law would also make it illegal to “aid or abet” abortions, even if they were performed in other states.
These anti-abortion laws argue that an unborn fetus should be considered a functioning human because its heartbeat can be heard on ultrasound — an argument most health professionals widely dispute. Whatever your ultimate opinion on abortion might be, it’s important to remember that laws supporting a woman’s choice and women’s right to the healthcare she wants to use can also greatly impact the workplace.
As Jen Stark, director of corporate strategy for the philanthropic organization Tara Health Foundation explained to Quartz, reproductive rights should always be considered a workplace issue.
“We’re not asking companies to weigh in on ‘when does life begin,’ values or morality,” Stark said. “What we’re asking them to say is that access to reproductive health connects to their gender and racial equity commitments.”
In the same piece, Shaina Goodman, director for reproductive health and rights at the nonprofit advocacy group National Partnership for Women & Families, added that when women have access to abortions, they can stay in the workplace or stay committed to education to “support the economic security of their family.” When they don’t have those rights, their careers suffer.
Hiring could also become more difficult in states with restrictive anti-abortion laws. According to a PerryUndem study, more than two-thirds of college-educated workers would refuse to take a job in a state where a woman’s right to choose is upheld.
Laws Preventing Inclusive Education in Schools
The Black Lives Matter movement and recent wave in social justice reform have triggered a significant amount of pushback against what some have disparagingly called a “woke” agenda.
As with the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and others like it, much of that pushback is occurring in pending legislation centered around schools and what America’s youth are being taught to think.
ABC News estimated that in the last year, at least 41 states have introduced some form of legislation limiting or restricting the teaching of issues centered around race in the classroom. In most of these cases, the laws specifically focus on a popular and specific buzzword anti-equality forces have chosen to center their attacks around: critical race theory (CRT).
The concept of “critical race theory” was developed in the 1970s and ‘80s by former Harvard Law professor Derrick Bell. CRT explores how racism is embedded in certain American institutions to preserve the status quo of the time (white dominance).
“Opponents fear that CRT admonishes all white people for being oppressors while classifying all Black people as hopelessly oppressed victims,” according to The Brookings Institution’s Rashawn Ray and Alexandra Gibbons. “[However], CRT does not attribute racism to white people as individuals or even to entire groups of people. Simply put, critical race theory states that U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market, and healthcare system) are riddled with laws laced with racist policies, regulations, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race.”
Ray and Gibbons added that the problem with CRT arises because “many Americans are not able to separate their individual identity as an American from the social institutions that govern us—these people perceive themselves as the system. Consequently, they interpret calling social institutions racist as calling them racist personally.”
And that’s why, in an era of heightened focus on civil rights and racial issues, so many people see the concept of critical race theory as something that should be done away with and obliterated. And that’s also why state legislature after state legislature appears to be working to ban it.
On March 16, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves became the latest state leader to sign a bill banning the teaching of CRT in schools into law.
In addition to specifically banning the teaching of CRT, another pending legislation across the country is pushing for greater curriculum transparency. What that looks like ranges from all classroom assignments and materials being publicly available online to having live stream webcams installed in classrooms so parents and community officials can monitor classroom discussions. Some of these laws prevent teachers from assigning any sort of homework or research that might “compel” students to think about race or the impact race has played in history.
In Georgia, lawmakers want to make it impossible for school boards to ban individuals from school board meetings — even if they’ve been disruptive in the past — while Oklahoma officials have proposed a new bill that would allow students to leave a school if they don’t like the curriculum and take their public funds with them to any private school they may prefer to attend instead.
The anti-CRT movement is so strong that UCLA researchers have estimated that more than 17.7 million public school students enrolled in almost 900 districts across the country could have their educations negatively impacted by pending local and state laws and policies designed to alter or restrict what they are allowed to learn in the classroom.
The problem with restricting education in this way, experts say, isn’t just that it alters views of history and restricts the ability of young adults to think critically. It also limits students’ ability to grow and expand and explore subjects they’ve never thought about before.
“It looks like there are lawmakers and school board members who are trying to promote the ‘mirror’ texts [that reflect] their own perspectives and ban the ‘window’ texts that offer new perspectives,” said Jason Griffith, a professor at Penn State in an interview with Insight Into Diversity. “They’re not seeing the value in fostering reflections of various identities.”