Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 21 / 25 May 2017
 

Business Briefs: Silicon Valley leans all in for LGBT rights

NEWS


m.bajko@ebar.com

San Francisco-based Salesforce had a float in last year's LGBT Pride parade. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Silicon Valley leaders have emerged as a powerful voice in the fight to defeat anti-gay "religious freedom" bills under consideration in statehouses across the country.

The spark came from the passage of Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act in late March. Marc Benioff , the CEO of San Francisco-based Salesforce , which has offices throughout Indiana, was the first to speak out against enactment of the law, which allows business owners to cite their religious beliefs for refusing to serve LGBT customers.

Not only did Benioff cancel trips for employees headed to the Hoosier State, he said the company would no longer expand its operations in Indiana due to the homophobic law.

Apple's CEO Tim Cook, who only came out as gay last year, was also quick to publicly denounce the Indiana law. He not only tweeted out his opposition to such laws, Cook also penned a widely distributed opinion piece in the Washington Post about the attempts to pass religious freedom bills.

"They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality," wrote Cook.

The pressure from the high-tech executives, as well as other business leaders within Indiana and Arkansas, where a similar bill to the one enacted in Indiana was passed by the state Legislature, helped convince Indiana Governor Mike Pence to seek revisions to his state's law and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to call for a similar revisal to the one passed in his state clarifying that neither allowed for LGBT people to be discriminated against.

(Monday, April 6 Salesforce posted online a video in thanks to the state of Indiana that features slain gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk's famous "Hope" speech.)

Amid the ongoing controversy, as lawmakers in other states consider adopting their own Religious Freedom Restoration Acts into law, the chorus of tech leaders speaking out against the homophobic legislative acts continues to grow louder. More than 100 technology industry executives have signed onto a position statement that calls on state lawmakers to add non-discrimination protections for LGBT people to their states' civil rights laws.

"We believe it is critically important to speak out about proposed bills and existing laws that would put the rights of minorities at risk. The transparent and open economy of the future depends on it, and the values of this great nation are at stake," reads the statement. "Religious freedom, inclusion, and diversity can co-exist and everyone including LGBT people and people of faith should be protected under their states' civil rights laws. No person should have to fear losing their job or be denied service or housing because of who they are or whom they love."

Signers of the statement, being circulated by national LGBT advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, include Joyus.com Chief Executive Officer Sukhinder Singh Cassidy; Symantec President and CEO Michael Brown; Nextdoor Co-Founder Sarah Leary ; Twitter Vice President Katie Stanton; YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki; Google President Larry Page and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt ; Uber Technologies CEO Travis Kalanick ; and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg ; Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers; and Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann.

"The unified message from these business leaders is clear: Pass LGBT non-discrimination protections and pass them now," stated HRC President Chad Griffin. "Until legislators finally step up to the plate and take action, this issue is not going to go away. It's time for elected officials to listen to the overwhelming voice of fair-minded Americans demanding equality for their LGBT loved ones, friends, and neighbors. No American should risk losing their job, be denied housing, or refused service simply because of who they are or whom they love."

The response from Silicon Valley business leaders has been "inspirational," said gay Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager , who noted the industry only recently has begun to flex its collective power politically, from lobbying lawmakers on net neutrality to being a major source of donations and endorsements for presidential contenders and political candidates.

"It is wonderful to see these companies getting more involved in politics, and secondly, to take a very firm stand in support of LGBT rights," said Yeager, who had his board colleagues adopt a policy this week that bans county-funded travel to any state that enacts anti-gay religious freedom legislation. "One of the reasons why I felt the county needed to take action on this was the show of support from these companies and to signal that the county of Santa Clara is in unison with them. I am hoping there might be other situations in the future where the county and companies operating in the county can be on the same page fighting for civil rights."

To make it easy for any company to take a stand against anti-gay religious freedom laws, San Francisco-based Out and Equal Workplace Advocates has created a webpage where business leaders can find talking points and a template letter they can use to denounce such laws. (It is located at http://www.outandequal.org/connect/about/media-announcements/open-lettertalking-points-religious-freedom/ .)

"Out and Equal commends the growing number of companies and elected officials speaking out against discrimination," stated Selisse Berry, the CEO and founder of the nonprofit. "Major corporations are leading the way for LGBT workplace equality because they understand it is bad for business if they operate in states that are labeled as discriminatory."

Recalling how local laws protecting LGBT people were overturned at the ballot box in numerous jurisdictions back in the 1970s, Yeager marveled at how the polar opposite occurred this time around, with anti-gay laws quickly falling by the wayside due to the public uproar.

"We all remember when waves of these conservative laws swept through the country and there was no stopping them. I go back to the Anita Bryant days and the fight over laws banning LGBT discrimination in housing and employment," said Yeager, referring to the former Florida beauty queen who was the voice of the anti-gay fight four decades ago.

The immediate pushback against the latest tactic being used by anti-gay activists is also in stark contrast to the more recent "waves of legislation" and voter initiatives banning same-sex marriage, added Yeager.

"We are used to these waves happening, and I think there was going to be another one on the religious freedom front. To have it stopped in a week is absolutely remarkable," he said. "In 30 years of doing gay politics, I have never seen it."

Honor Roll

Since 2005 the LGBT program Out in the Bay has been a weekly fixture on radio dials. It airs every Thursday night at 7 p.m. on KALW 91.7 FM.

To mark its 10th anniversary, the show is throwing a party Wednesday, April 29 at the Oasis nightclub and cabaret in San Francisco.

During the event, "We'll record a retrospective special featuring audio clips and backstories from our all-time favorite broadcasts. It'll be the first time we tape a show together in front of a live audience – it'll be a hoot!" wrote co-hosts Eric Jansen and Marilyn Pittman in an emailed invite.

Doors for the 21-and-over event open at 5 p.m. with the program starting at 6. Entertainment will include the SF Gay Men's Chorus ensemble The Lollipop Guild and jazz crooner Joshua Klipp . La Mediterranee is catering the affair, which will end at 8 p.m.

Tickets begin at $20 per person and can be purchased online at http://tinyurl.com/ooloog9.

Oasis is located at 298 11th Street at Folsom.

Got a tip on LGBT business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com.






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