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LGBT Rights Struggle Highlights Power of Businesses to be Voice for Equality

Submitted by: Lecia Brooks

Posted: May 20, 2015 – 06:00 AM EST

Series: Human Rights: A Rainbow of Challenges

Tags: human rights, lgbt, same-sex marriage, business

 
Lecia-brooks_2014-web_200

This is the most recent article in our series on Human Rights & Equality. For more articles, go to http://www.csrwire.com/blog/series/82-human-rights-a-rainbow-of-challenges/posts

It’s easy to think the battle for LGBT rights is almost over in this country. 

Public opinion has changed rapidly over the past decade, and the U.S. Supreme Court is widely expected to make same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states when it rules this June. But it’s premature to declare LGBT rights a settled issue. Much like the civil rights movement after the passage of major legislation, many issues in the struggle for equality remain unsettled.

In fact, businesses may find the latest battlefront on their doorstep.

You need only to look to Indiana. A “religious freedom” bill signed into law by the governor became national news this year after it became apparent the law was a thinly disguised measure giving business owners the right to discriminate against LGBT people.

Consumer boycotts were threatened. Other governors banned government travel to Indiana. Angie’s List, a consumer review website, announced it would suspend an expansion of its headquarters that would have brought 1,000 jobs to Indianapolis. Chief executives with some of Indiana’s largest employers urged state officials to change the law. Ultimately, state lawmakers revised the law.

A similar controversy erupted in Arkansas. Its religious freedom law was revamped after Wal-Mart and other major employers in the state complained that the law could damage Arkansas’ image.

The lesson is clear: Even if a business isn’t on the frontlines of a human rights movement, it can find itself in the middle of the struggle. As much as a company may try to avoid “hot-button issues,” it’s best to stand up for equality when these controversies occur.

It’s not just good business, it’s the right thing to do.

It’s likely that more business leaders may have to speak out against such laws. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook wrote in The Washington Post earlier this year about a “wave of legislation” introduced across the country that would allow people to discriminate. He warned there is “something very dangerous happening in states across the country.”

It wasn’t long after Cook sounded the alarm that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal took to the opinion pages of The New York Times to dig in his heels against same-sex marriage. In a column, he attacked the businesses that stood up to the laws in Arkansas and Indiana as being in league with “left-wing activists to bully elected officials.” He went as far as to tell businesses that might stand up to such legislation in Louisiana to “Save your breath.”

Jindal’s tough talk shows that he either doesn’t understand or care about the actual consequences of these laws. Such discriminatory laws affect more than a state’s economy, or a company’s bottom line: They affect real people.

Businesses see the impact because they’re part of the fabric of their communities. They see the hardship these laws have on their customers. They see the pain their employees experience when the state singles them out for discrimination. And, yes, they see talented people leave the state to start a business or take a job in a more welcoming state.

In other words, businesses are in a unique position to speak out against this sort of discrimination.  It doesn’t mean politicians will always listen, but those speaking up for equality will be on the right side of history. When a federal judge overturned Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban earlier this year, state politicians railed against the ruling, even citing states’ rights arguments reminiscent of the resistance to the civil rights movement. Alabama’s chief justice – an elected official – created confusion by suggesting the federal court overstepped its authority.

This came only a few months after Apple’s Cook, an Alabama native, criticized his state for being slow to ensure LGBT rights. Instead of quietly becoming the 37th state to recognize same-sex marriage, Alabama had one of the most defiant and belligerent reactions of the states that have seen their same-sex marriage ban struck down. Alabama’s protest only served to resurrect the most hateful and intolerant images from its past while ensuring the state a shameful place in modern history.

It’s clear that the LGBT community has made great progress, but more work remains. And if recent events are any indication, more voices for equality will be needed if the U.S. Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage across the country. Businesses need to be ready to speak up.

Photo Credit: Michelle Leland

This is the most recent article in our series on Human Rights & Equality. For more articles, go to http://www.csrwire.com/blog/series/82-human-rights-a-rainbow-of-challenges/posts


The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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