Counterpoint: LGBTQ-friendly companies should *not* boycott states like North Carolina

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Locating here might be just what the doctor ordered:

In my late 20s, I followed a Sapphic North Star to Seattle, one of the nation’s most progressive cities. There, I met my wife at a coffee shop in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, where we would later share our first home together. We were represented by a gay mayor and two gay state legislators, while benefiting from robust statewide nondiscrimination protections—a lucky situation we only occasionally thought about.

Safeguards like these are far too rare for far too many. Only 44 percent of all LGBTQ people nationwide have these same guarantees today, and none of them live in the South—where we now live, in North Carolina. Here, we and all LGBTQ people are keenly aware of the potential vulnerabilities we face in the eyes of employers, landlords, and others. With the differing experiences of Washington and North Carolina in mind, it’s clear what is and is not useful in advancing equality nationwide—and ill-considered corporate relocation boycotts are definitely in the latter category.

I recently got into a pointless argument with somebody who basically said, "If you're a straight white male you should STFU and let marginalized people lead the discussion." And I get most of that. But I also know if I don't speak out in certain venues and media (like this one), the issues won't be addressed at all, or at best very infrequently. With that said, the opinion expressed above has been on my mind for some time also. The thing about boycotts is, they "isolate." The intention to isolate a state as punishment for discriminatory practices, in order to generate a loss of commerce, seems like a valid approach. Hurt 'em in their wallets, as it were. But that isolation comes at a cost to the LGBTQ folks who could have found employment and solidarity working at these companies. And those opportunities are desperately needed here in the South:

Consider this: The South is home to more LGBTQ people than any other region in the country. There are more LGBTQ people living in North Carolina than in Washington state, more in Georgia than in Oregon, more in Texas than in New York state. LGBTQ people here are more likely to be people of color, raising families and living in poverty or low-income conditions. Trans people of color have unemployment rates four times higher than the national average. In some parts of the South, many trans people drive up to 125 miles just to see a primary care doctor.

In Washington, it is clear that Amazon made a huge difference in advancing LGBTQ equality. Amazon creating new jobs in a state like North Carolina does nothing to lessen the protections already gained in the company’s home state or elsewhere. Job opportunities bringing equal benefits for straight and gay families alike and companywide nondiscrimination policies are, however, tangible social and economic protections for at least some LGBTQ people living in more hostile environments. Amazon and Apple’s gender-transition and gender-reassignment benefits could be a real aid to many of North Carolina’s 22,000 trans residents. For trans people—90 percent of whom face harassment in the workplace—being treated fairly in the hiring process and throughout employment is critical to their success.

“We fully expect companies to be active and vocal here in the same way they have been in other places,” says the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director for the Campaign for Southern Equality. “We see having more allies as a good and a positive thing.”

Demanding that Amazon, Apple, and other major queer-friendly companies cease consideration of North Carolina is pure folly and only reinforces existing disparities. If we are serious about advancing LGBTQ rights across the South, where this past year more than 71 percent of anti-gay legislation was proposed, then let’s urge these companies to expand here right now precisely because it is here where their presence will make the most difference. Bringing more assets to the fight for queer people in the South is not a betrayal. Standing in our way is. Accelerating opportunities for political, economic, and cultural power in the South is the smart move for everyone.

As I alluded to above, it is not for me to "decide" if this is a better approach, that should be left up to the LGBTQ community itself. And I know several in that community will read this over the next few days. Please speak your minds in the comment section below, because we need your voice.

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Comments

Counter-counter Point: They will change nothing because "monies"

Speaking as a gay man - and a middle-aged gay man who has seen just about everything in bigotry and homophobia that the Tarheel State has had to offer up since the 1970s - I have to strongly disagree here.

What many straight, gay allies don’t get about this whole debate over LGBT rights and moving companies in and out of NC is that, time after time, when the subject of gay rights and economics has come up, Democrats and liberal-leaning independents have caved and gays are the ones who have gotten screwed while someone else makes a buck at our expense.

The argument by straights boils down to this:

“If we are serious about advancing LGBTQ rights across the South, where this past year more than 71 percent of anti-gay legislation was proposed, then let’s urge these companies to expand here right now precisely because it is here where their presence will make the most difference.”

Bullshit.

What will happen is the same thing that has happened in North Carolina since the 1950s (or even before).

More liberal-leaning companies will move into and expand in North Carolina’s urban and suburban areas. They’ll have tolerant or quite progressive policies for LGBT employees. At the same time, the companies will support hard-right bigoted politicians (and “middle of the road” Dems who don’t want to make waves) with campaign donations to keep their tax advantages.

Meanwhile, LGBTs in rural areas will realize that they’re surrounded by evangelical bigots, get tired of the anti-gay crap they see everyday, and move to the urban and suburban areas to get a job where they don’t have to live in fear of getting fired for being gay or having their tires slashed by a fundamentalist co-worker in the parking lot at work.

Mainstream, straight liberals can feel nice about supporting LGBTs by having LGBT-friendly companies for them to work for and can pay lip service to equal rights. Bigots, on the other hand, still get the political donations, tax money, and economic development and still get to be bigots without any penalty.

There will be no change unless bigotry has consequences.

No one would stand up to Jesse Helms, ultimately, because it was bad for business. He was a powerful Senator that brought dollars to the state. LGBT’s and people with AIDS, meanwhile, suffered and died because of the bigotry and hate he spread on the floor of Congress.

No one would stand up to Roy Cooper’s “revised” HB2 because it meant loosing all that sports ball money. Well, we got our sports ball money and, meanwhile, LGBTs are the ones who got stuck with the raw deal on that.

If Amazon, Apple or Google want to expand here in NC, fine, whatever. But don’t use their presence as an excuse to crow about the changes they can make to the political landscape in North Carolina on equal rights for gays. We've had LGBT+ positive companies and universities in the state for many years - nothing has changed and adding more won't make any difference.

We all know that, when push comes to shove, they’re going to donate and support the bigots in the North Carolina legislature the way they always have. It’s good for (their) business.

FWIW, the article itself,

including the excerpt you described as a straight opinion, was written by a gay female. Who lives in Raleigh, which kinda supports your claim about metro areas being vastly different from rural areas in this regard.

But you're right about businesses and politicians throwing LGBT folks under the bus whenever it's convenient. Putting Amendment One on the Primary ballot is a prime example of that. It was like using gay people as bait for a vicious animal, to draw the creature away from other potential victims.

Not that it matters much, but I am genuinely sorry for all the suffering such things have caused you and others.

Gays have fallen for this too

I'm not surprised the article was written by a gay women - I hear these kind of opinions from other LGBTs. As a community we have a wide range of opinions and don't always agree on the best way forward; sometimes our opinions can be shaped by our individual experiences and the geographic areas we're coming from.

Personally, I don't want sympathy for what I and others I've known have been through.
What I do want is a future where we can live in peace and without fear.

Really, can we expect anything to change in NC if we keep doing the same things, over and over again?

Is there really any kind of future for LGBTs in NC outside of the urban/suburban areas (and with the "right" employer) if the cycle of rewarding bigots and the politicians who enable them continues?

How will it stop if no one bothers to stand up and say, "No. Enough."?

Corporations are a double-edged sword

In board terms, corporations are a double-edged sword between their willingness to sometimes fight back against regressive social policies, and to sometimes back bigoted politicians who support those kinds of policies because of their stances on taxes and regulations. Of course mileage may vary based on the individual corporation. And in the long term I do want to see more LGBTQ equality supportive companies across the state.

In the nearer term, using economic pressure to shape specific policies in favor of LGBTQ equality is also something I can support. Especially when there's a clear goal, a clear connection between cause and effect on the economic decisions, and large enough sustained buy-in for it to make a difference.

And I can totally see the tension between those two statements of wanting more supportive organizations in the long term and wanting to shape policy in the near term. At some point after the near term efforts either succeed or fail, which can be kind of hard to judge, then the long term goals come into play again. I'm not sure where and when that dividing line is, but I'm inclined to lean on LGBTQ community groups & advocacy organizations to make that call rather than weighing in heavily as an individual just yet. To be effective we have act together.

Maybe that's a cop out since I'm not coming down hard one way or the other. But my organizing instincts tell me we need to act together as a community to be effective.

I also see that NC is a swing state based on past presidential election results and the fact that the RNC wants to be NC in 2020. So I recognize the power tipping point changes might have. Would more Apple and Amazon jobs and employees in NC make a difference in who wins in 2020 in the state legislature and who draws the next round of redistricting maps? That decision will have a big impact on the LGBTQ community in NC for decades to come.

I understand where this discussion is coming from and how folks on both sides could come at it from a place of wanting to support LGBTQ equality. I think it's a good discussion to have. But I'm not putting out the rainbow welcome mat until that's what the community decides is best.

That said, if they do come here, I hope they will act in ways to expand equality and provide secure jobs to LGBTQ people who can't find protections in the policies issued by our state legislature. And if they don't come here I hope they make it clear that LGBTQ equality policies were an important factor as to why.

Thanks, Jake

What a fabulous and thoughtful comments. Just goes to underscore that nothing is simple, and knee-jerk reactions (in either way) are generally unproductive. Thanks for writing this.

Jobs, etc

"Would more Apple and Amazon jobs and employees in NC make a difference in who wins in 2020 in the state legislature and who draws the next round of redistricting maps? That decision will have a big impact on the LGBTQ community in NC for decades to come."

Only if they were a hell of a lot of them spread out over the rural areas of the state.

We already have many LGBT+ friendly/supportive employers in NC in the Triad, the Triangle, and Charlotte.

Having a few more liberal/progressive votes in those areas isn't going to flip any seats in the legislature.

"I hope they will act in ways to expand equality and provide secure jobs to LGBTQ people who can't find protections in the policies issued by our state legislature. And if they don't come here I hope they make it clear that LGBTQ equality policies were an important factor as to why."

This rather cynical old gay guy ain't getting his hopes up and doubts that anything will change. He's seen all this before, many, many times and NC's pretty much the same as it always was.

Keep in mind that went from working for several years at an NC university without an LGBT non-discrimination policy. I went through years of constant harassment - people slashing my tires in the parking lot at work, threatening anonymous phone calls and notes in the mail, you name it.

I left there for a "liberal" institution with an LGBT anti-discrimination policy. Well, I'm not afraid of getting fired, but regularly see the institution regulary put up with homophobic - and frankly quite extreme and sometimes violent - anti-LGBT rhetoric from faculty or alumni and regularly cuddle up to key figures in the NC legislature and GOP who would rather see LGBTs dead or thrown in prison.

Sure, the institution's leaders give great lip service to supporting minorities or LGBTs. They can talk that shit all day, smiling, as they name a new building or center after someone using their fortune to smear LGBTs as pedophiles.

I've heard enough sympathetic talk and hope about LGBT rights from allies to last me a lifetime. I'm to the point where it's better that allies just shut up and don't bother if they're not going to really do anything substantive.

I don't blame you

This rather cynical old gay guy ain't getting his hopes up and doubts that anything will change. He's seen all this before, many, many times and NC's pretty much the same as it always was.

I don't blame you. For me personally, to believe in the value of a boycott or whatever this is, I've got to believe there's a chance it might lead to some change. But I think it's completely valid given your lived experiences to believe the way you do.

I was curious about the author of the article under discussion. From a quick google search, it looks like she's family.

She is, Jake

I tagged her on Twitter also, so she might just drop by and engage some...