Amazon shouldn’t choose Raleigh – or 10 other cities – for its second headquarters because states such as North Carolina don’t protect residents from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, according to gay-rights advocates.
A campaign called “No gay? No way!” launched Thursday to pressure Amazon to reconsider 11 cities on its list of 20 potential sites for a second headquarters.
“31 states fail to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations,” the campaign’s website says. “Surprisingly, nine of those states are home to 11 of the 20 finalist cities vying for Amazon’s second headquarters.”
Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and North Carolina are home to 11 of the 20 cities Amazon is considering and do not have anti-gay discrimination laws.
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The nine remaining cities would be: Boston; Chicago; Denver; Los Angeles; Montgomery County, Md.; Newark, N.J.; New York; Toronto, Ontario; and Washington, D.C.
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“It is shocking that Amazon would consider locating HQ2 with its over 50,000 employees in a state that doesn’t protect LGBT people or their families,” the campaign said. “In these nine states, it is legal to fire someone, deny them housing or refuse them service just because of who they are or who they love.”
Amazon has said it would hire 50,000 well-paid workers and spend $5 billion building its second headquarters in whichever city it chooses.
But while the cities in consideration may match up with Amazon’s wish list of a city with business-friendly environments, highly educated labor pools, strong transportation options and good quality of life, the ad hoc group that makes up “No gay? No way!” says Amazon needs to uphold its own values.
Like many other tech companies, Amazon has a long history as a supporter of gay rights and anti-discrimination legislation and has its own gay and lesbian employee group, GLAmazon, founded in 2005. Amazon was one of more than 50 tech companies that signed a “friend of the court” brief in 2017 in a case involving a Virginia transgender high school student.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who helped push for marriage equality in Washington state and is a recipient of the Human Rights Campaign’s equality award, has said, “We want our employees – and the communities where we operate – to embrace that we’re all human, we’re all different, and we’re all equal. At Amazon, equality is a core value for us, and it is simply right.”
“We hope that Amazon will live up to its strong track record of advocacy for equal rights,” the campaign said.
The group was planning a demonstration near Amazon’s original headquarters in Seattle on Thursday.
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, for her part, told The N&O that Raleigh “has always been an open, inclusive and diverse city. It’s what binds us and defines us.”
Companies in the past have used corporate clout to try to sway politicians and effect change, including in North Carolina.
In 2016, PayPal canceled its plans to open a global operations center in Charlotte after North Carolina passed House Bill 2, also known as the “bathroom bill,” preventing cities from creating their own non-discrimination policies to protect transgender people. The center was expected to employ 400 people.
McFarlane, who is politically unaffiliated, said after HB2’s passage that the city supports the transgender community. Republican lawmakers who control the legislature and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper partially repealed HB2 last year but set temporary restrictions on new local anti-discrimination ordinances.
Then last fall, Cooper signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination in his administration and in companies that do business with the state.
“The repeal of HB 2 was a major step in repairing our state’s reputation and after the repeal last year, North Carolina attracted major new investment by companies such as Credit Suisse, Infosys, Allstate and Verizon,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in a statement. “Amazon knows the progress we’ve made and what a great home North Carolina would make for HQ2.”
Amazon’s request for proposals for its second headquarters did not mention the LGBTQ community specifically, but does say it requires “a compatible cultural and community environment” that includes “the presence and support of a diverse population.”
Amazon’s diversity statement says, “We believe that diversity and inclusion are good for our business, but our commitment is based on something more fundamental than that. It’s simply right.”
Equality NC is a Raleigh-based member of the Equality Federation, a part of the ad hoc “No Gay? No Way!” effort. But Equality NC isn’t directly affiliated with the campaign, said Ben Graumann, a spokesman for the Raleigh-based organization.
“We are able to leverage the knowledge and experience of other statewide LGBTQ groups through the federation,” Graumann said. “In the end, however, the Federation can only provide suggestions and it is up to us what we ultimately act on.”
The group neither supports nor opposes the “No Gay? No Way!” campaign, he said.
Matt Hirschy, Equality NC’s executive director, said in an email that “LGBTQ North Carolinians are proud to live and work in the Old North State and want what every other American wants too – good jobs.”
However, “North Carolina lacks many of the crucial non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people that are so vital for a welcoming and thriving business atmosphere. That’s why it’s understandable that people from other parts of the country are expressing their concerns,” Hirschy said.
He continued: “Many LGBTQ Americans don’t feel safe working in a state that has passed deeply discriminatory bills such as HB2, SB2, and HB142. If we want to stay competitive and attract good jobs to North Carolina, then the North Carolina General Assembly must take this issue seriously and pass comprehensive non-discrimination protections.”
The Human Rights Campaign’s index gives Raleigh one of the worst scores among the 20 Amazon finalists that the commission scored (not all finalists are included in the index).
The committee’s Municipal Equality Index demonstrates “the ways that many cities can – and do – support the LGBTQ people who live and work there, even where states and the federal government have failed to do so.”
Raleigh had a score of 60 out of 100, according to the index. Miami was the only city of the finalists scored in the index that had a lower score than Raleigh – a 59 out of 100.
Amazon’s top 20 cities for HQ2
Los Angeles, Calif.
Montgomery County, Md.
New York, N.Y.
Northern Virginia, Va.