Editorial: Dip in states' equality is dangerous

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday June 26, 2024
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The Pride flag flew under the U.S. and state flags at the Capitol in Sacramento. Photo: Courtesy Governor's office
The Pride flag flew under the U.S. and state flags at the Capitol in Sacramento. Photo: Courtesy Governor's office

A new report from Out Leadership shows how conservatives' ability to craft — and pass — anti-LGBTQ legislation has decreased equality in the U.S. The "2024 State LGBTQ+ Business Climate Index" measures each state's record and laws on LGBTQ equality. As Todd G. Sears, founder and CEO of Out Leadership, wrote in the report's introduction, for the second year in a row the average score has declined, as we noted in a recent article. For the third year running more states have become less friendly to LGBTQ Americans. Sears calls this "an incredibly dangerous trend."

We agree.

"The United State economy thrives in a predictable business environment," Sears explained. "But with each anti-LGBTQ+ policy, state leaders sacrifice concrete financial benefits for cheap political points. These laws arbitrarily involve policymakers in the affairs of private enterprises, preventing managers from placing the best employees in the right roles and undermining both consumer and investor confidence."

More importantly, Sears noted that laws targeting LGBTQ youth, such as bans on gender-affirming care for transgender minors, impact whole families, forcing some to flee states — and leave behind their jobs — just to keep their children safe. This is appalling, as we know, and it turns out that it's more than just LGBTQ people who are affected. Companies are impacted too.

And in a statement that should resonate with Republicans, which used to be the party of free enterprise but has transitioned to wanting to control people's bodies (women, pregnant people, trans youth, drag artists, etc.), Sears noted that in enacting these discriminatory laws, state leaders are choosing risk over stability — an "attack on our freedom to raise families and build businesses without the fear of unnecessary government intrusion in our lives and work."

It's shameful that the GOP, especially its presumptive presidential nominee this November, former President Donald Trump, and his many sycophants have stooped to this level of fearmongering. In doing so, they give license to MAGA enthusiasts to bully, threaten, and harass members of our community.

As polarization across the U.S. deepens, the report noted in its executive summary, those states that demonstrate hostility to LGBTQ rights "continue to jeopardize the LGBTQ+ community's ability to live and work."

The report measured five categories: legal and non-discrimination protections, youth and family support, political and religious attitudes, health access and safety, and work environment and employment. Unsurprisingly, low ranking states — Arkansas took the dubious prize with a score of 27 out of a possible 100 points — are terrible across all of these groupings.

The report's scoring gave positive marks to pro-LGBTQ policies that provided protections or equal treatment. It gave negative scores for homophobic and transphobic laws or policies, and to instances where protections excluded the LGBTQ community.

Of particular concern to us is the fact that California, a state with some of the strongest LGBTQ protections in the country, failed to make the top 10, coming in at No. 11. (New York state was the highest, with 93.67 points.) California's score of 86.67 points suggests that there is more work to do.

While Out Leadership's report shows the Golden State's scores under the legal and non-discrimination category, as well as under youth and family support, increased slightly from 2023, we believe the overall score could also reflect conservative attitudes in parts of the state that have seen school boards adopt forced outing policies targeting trans and gender-nonconforming youth. A state court blocked one district from enforcing such a policy, while all such policies would be banned if a new state law by gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) should his bill pass the Legislature and be signed by Governor Gavin Newsom. It's clear that these policies have had a negative effect on LGBTQ people and their families.

"California's comprehensive non-discrimination law protects LGBTQ+ people, so the state is already experiencing the positive economic impacts of such policies," the report stated, adding that 5.3% of Californians self-identify as LGBTQ. "One estimate suggests that the state's economy may have grown 3%, or $83.9 billion, thanks to its inclusive approach. That said, there's still a gap between policy and culture, and organizations in California have a business imperative to ensure that LGBTQ+ people feel welcome in their workplaces."

That gap is also reflected in the ongoing fight over Pride flags in the Golden State. Some cities and other jurisdictions (i.e., school districts) have banned flying them in this latest culture war skirmish. (Next week, in fact, voters in the small East Bay community of Sunol will decide on recalling two school board members who voted to adopt a policy that prohibits flying the Pride flag.)

Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ rights group, commented to us that the score shows there are "opportunities to improve." We concur. To start, the Legislature needs to pass the pro-LGBTQ bills it is considering. Meanwhile, companies also need to step up, not down, like Target did with its diminished in-store Pride displays this year.

It is only when California business, political, and community leaders embrace the LGBTQ community — and all other communities — that the Golden State will thrive.

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