Prizm News / February 2, 2018 / By Bob Vitale

Amazon employees in Vancouver, British Columbia, march in their local Pride parade. Top: Amazon employees in Seattle raise the LGBTQ flag at the company’s headquarters for Pride month in June 2017. (Photos from Amazon blogs)

Will a company with such a strong record on equality add 50,000 employees in a state that allows discrimination against LGBTQ people?

 

By Bob Vitale 

Ohio lawmakers’ refusal to follow the lead of 19 other states and dozens of major corporations in banning discrimination based on people’s sexual orientation and gender identity could prove to be a $5 billion mistake. 

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Columbus is one of 20 cities still under consideration by Amazon for the online retailer’s second North American headquarters, but the lack of a statewide nondiscrimination law is turning into a mark in the “no” column of the city’s chances. 

National LGBTQ organizations have begun reminding Amazon of its longstanding commitment to diversity, inclusion and LGBTQ civil rights, and they’re pointing out that 11 of its finalist cities and regions are in states with laws that fall far short of Amazon’s own policies. 

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“An LGBT job candidate is going to Google ‘Ohio gay rights.’ They’ll see Ohio has a big red checkmark.”

Grant Stancliff
Equality Ohio
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If Amazon heeds the advice to steer clear of cities that allow discrimination against LGBTQ people, it would scratch Columbus, Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Indianapolis, Miami, Nashville, Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Raleigh off its list. 

“Amazon has been a champion for the LGBT community as early supporters of the Equality Act, backers of marriage equality campaigns and active voices against legislation that discriminates against transgender people in states across the country,” activists said this week in launching a campaign called “No Gay? No Way.” 

“We hope that Amazon will live up to its strong track record of advocacy for equal rights.” 

That track record at Amazon goes beyond mere words. 

Amazon has sponsored an LGBTQ employee group, Glamazon, since 1999. It was among U.S. corporations that filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court urging its 2015 decision in favor of nationwide marriage equality, and it is among corporate backers of the Equality Act, which would expand federal nondiscrimination laws to cover gender identity and sexual orientation. 

The company maintains a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equality Index and is listed among the HRC’s Best Places to Work. 

CEO Jeff Bezos was given the national civil rights group’s Equality Award last fall. 

“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,” he said at the time.  “At Amazon, equality is a core value for us, and it is simply right.” 

Amazon didn’t specifically demand statewide nondiscrimination laws in its request for proposals from potential homes to the second North American headquarters. But in addition to spelling out space requirements and other details, it said: “The project requires a compatible cultural and community environment for its long-term success. This includes the presence and support of a diverse population.” 

At a Statehouse hearing Wednesday on a House bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to Ohio’s nondiscrimination laws, Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, asked a Columbus Chamber of Commerce official whether the city’s bid for Amazon might be harmed if Ohio lawmakers fails to approve the Ohio Fairness Act. 

“I don’t see how it doesn’t,” said Holly Gross, the chamber’s vice president of government relations. 

Both the Columbus Chamber and the Ohio Chamber, which represents 8,000 businesses in the state, support the nondiscrimination bill.

“A company like Amazon is going to require 50,000 employees,” Gross said. “That’s huge. We want to try to think about how we can attract and retain the best and the brightest regardless of their sexual orientation or gender indentity.” 

Such laws are increasingly important to potential employers looking at new locations and to employees looking whether to take jobs in new locations. 

Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, Akron and Dayton are among 20 Ohio cities that have approved local bans on anti-LGBTQ discrimination. But only one suburb of Columbus—Bexley—has its own inclusive local law. Four Cleveland suburbs and no suburbs of the state’s other biggest cities have local bans. 

“An LGBT job candidate is going to Google ‘Ohio gay rights,'” said Grant Stancliff, spokesman for Equality Ohio. “They’ll see Ohio has a big red checkmark.” 

Officials with the Columbus Sports Commission say the NCAA asked cities seeking to host its Women’s Final Four basketball championship this year to submit information about their local laws that affect LGBTQ people.

The NCAA pulled its neutral-site tournaments out of North Carolina in 2016 when that state approved a law regulating public restroom use by transgender people. Lawmakers repealed the measure a year later but still prohibit North Carolina cities from enacting local nondiscrimination laws.

Columbus will host the NCAA Women’s Final Four on March 30 and April 1.

bobvitale@prizmnews.com
Twitter: @Bob_Vitale

[An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Movement Advancement Project, Freedom for All Americans and the Equality Federation had started the campaign, No Gay? No Way. Prizm apologizes for the error.]

Bob Vitale
Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, he has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Contact: BobVitale@prizmnews.com