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Amazon, build HQ2 in inclusive state

by BAR Editorial Board

Amazon, build HQ2 in inclusive state

Seattle-based Amazon recently revealed a list of 20 cities that are finalists for a future second headquarters, or HQ2. While no city in the Bay Area made the cut, there are a number of others that would provide a great opportunity for the company, which in turn could offer good jobs to thousands of people, including LGBTQs.

But there are cities on the list that should be reconsidered; in fact, some of them are in states without the protection of anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws. As a result, LGBT leaders and activists have launched the "No gay? No way!" campaign to pressure Amazon to reject those sites.

Amazon's search sparked fierce competition among 200 cities bidding for HQ2, many offering millions of dollars in tax breaks and other incentives. In its request for proposals, Amazon stated that a diverse community is preferable: "Cultural Community Fit - The project requires a compatible cultural and community environment for its long-term success. This includes the presence and support of a diverse population, excellent institutions of higher education, local government structure, and elected officials eager and willing to work with the company, among other attributes. A stable and consistent business climate is important to Amazon. ..."

Among the finalists are cities in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. In each of those states, LGBTQ employees can be fired, denied housing, or refused service.

"We have future LGBTQ employees who will be working at the new headquarters," longtime gay activist David Mixner told NBC News. "We don't want them to be at a place where they have no rights and no laws to guarantee their safety. LGBTQ employees should not have to work or live in that atmosphere, especially since taxpayers will be subsidizing a great deal of this move."

Kate Kendell, the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, is also involved with the campaign. "Amazon should reject for consideration any site that has failed to respect the dignity of its LGBT residents," she told the network.

While some cities in those states do have non-discrimination policies, a complex as large as HQ2 will certainly have employees living in exurbs or communities that don't have these protections, which is why statewide laws are necessary.

Barring those states, there are enough cities remaining on the list that would provide a great location in keeping with Amazon's desire for diversity. CEO Jeff Bezos, after all, has donated millions to LGBTQ causes, including marriage equality, and he, too, should prioritize states that protect their residents from discrimination. Amazon started its LGBTQ employee group back in 1999, and has a long history of inclusive policies.

Cities in the states without LGBTQ statewide protections should begin lobbying legislators to change their laws, so that the next time a corporation considers moving there, it will be in a state that outlaws anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

About those super PACS
We received a news release from Mark Leno's mayoral campaign Monday - a super PAC supporting fellow candidate London Breed had released its first "attack" ad against him. At his campaign headquarters, Leno, surrounded by volunteers, denounced the ad and the influx of "big money" into the mayor's race. "Enough is enough," he said, calling on Breed to renounce the super PAC and for it to release donors' identities. The ad, available online and paid for by "SF Women Supporting London Breed for Mayor," alludes to "backroom" deals by some members of the Board of Supervisors to install Mark Farrell as interim mayor. It shows photos of Farrell, District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin (who's backing Leno), and gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy (who's not), all of whom, the ad says, wanted to "help this guy," showing an image of Leno. The ad's implication is that the male supervisors were threatened by Breed, the city's first African-American woman acting mayor, and wanted to remove her from Room 200 to help Leno, who would be the city's first openly gay mayor.

But conspicuously missing from the ad is the fact that three women also voted with Peskin, Sheehy, and District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee to install Farrell as interim mayor. Supervisor Hillary Ronen gave an impassioned speech about the negative effect of big money in local races, and then cast her vote for Farrell, a wealthy venture capitalist. Joining her were Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer and Jane Kim, who's a candidate for mayor herself.

Likewise, the ad seems to have misfired when it comes to strategy. The super PAC supports Breed, a moderate. But by linking Sheehy with it, are backers consequently benefitting his challenger, progressive candidate Rafael Mandelman, to replace him in the District 8 seat in June, which would flip control of the board to progressives?

Super PAC ads are usually misleading, and this one is no exception. Breed could renounce the super PAC all she wants, but it's operating independently of her campaign and she has no control over what it does. By highlighting the attack ad, Leno gave undo attention to its "negative" message; it was the top story on Monday's 6 p.m. news on KPIX, and print coverage of the ad included a link to view it, and, now, we're writing about it, too.

Super PACS are an unfortunate part of political life, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling several years ago. We're all for keeping local races funded by mostly local dollars, but it's legal for these outside groups to raise and spend funds in support of a candidate, as long as they don't coordinate with that candidate. San Francisco has its own stringent campaign finance rules that all candidates for office must follow.

Leno has been pushing his fair campaign pledge, which asks all mayoral candidates to renounce super PACS and independent expenditure committees. In addition to Leno, Kim, Angela Alioto, and queer candidate Amy Farah Weiss have signed it.

We'd like to see more discussion about how the candidates differ on the issues facing San Francisco. Leno has raised the most money in the race so far, and he should tell voters how he plans to "shake up City Hall," and what he will do to improve the quality of life in San Francisco and how his policies would address the city's housing and homeless crises. That's what voters want to hear from their next mayor.


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