I referenced the battles that were fought against anti-discriminatory legislation in various US states, most notably the ‘bathroom bills’ that would bar transgendered individuals from using the restrooms that meet their gender identities. In my interview with Salesforce Chief Equality Officer Tony Prophet last week
I also noted that the post-Presidential Election political climate might lead to more such battles, citing as a case in point a flurry of proposed anti-LBGTQ laws being proposed in Texas. Sadly it’s a case of no sooner said than done.
The tech industry has rallied its forces with the CEOs of 14 firms, including some massive names, writing directly to Texas Governor Greg Abbott to urge him to back away from passing discriminatory legislation.
Along with Salesforce, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Dell, Cisco, Amazon and Google have joined with Silicon Labs, Celanese Corp., GSD&M, and Gearbox Software to denounce the Texas proposals.
The letter warns Abbott:
As large employers in the state, we are gravely concerned that any such legislation would deeply tarnish Texas' reputation as open and friendly to businesses and families. Our ability to attract, recruit and retain top talent, encourage new business relocations, expansions and investment, and maintain our economic competitiveness would all be negatively affected.
Sigh. Here we go again…
This one could be a major battle. Abbott is a die-hard Republican, who earlier this month signed off on the so-called Sermon Protection Act. This came about after a group of pastors sought to block a proposed non-discrimination ordinance in 2014 which would have extended new equality rights to gay and transgender people. Houston’s then-Mayor Annise Parker sought to subpeona the texts of sermons delivered by the pastors which were believed to be homophobic.
But the real problem here is likely to be Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who has cited the Sermon Protection Act as one of his top priorities and makes no secret of the main issue at stake:
The Sermon Protection Act came about because of an issue, an issue that's not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. It’s the right issue, and that's to keep men out of ladies' rooms.
Actually, while the equal rights ordinance would have banned 15 categories of discrimination, including based on gender identity, there is not a single mention made of public bathrooms.
But Patrick has demanded that Abbott call a Special Session of the Texas state legislature to debate regulating the use of bathrooms. A Special Session is a 30 day period in which the Governor gets to decide the agenda items to be considered by lawmakers.
It’s meant to be used as a tool when legislators can’t come up with a deal or to get business done between regular legislative sessions. But in reality it’s a powerful tool for any Governor to pursue special interests and as the bills that make up Special Session agendas come with a gubernatorial stamp of approval, they often result in more extreme end results.
House Speaker Joe Strauss has proposed a compromise form of wording that would require school districts to provide single-occupancy bathrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities for students who don’t want to use the ones associated with their “biological sex.” He also appears to have lost patience with Patrick and recognises the implicit threat in the tech industry letter.
[The compromise wording] is the right thing to do in order to protect our economy from billions of dollars in losses and more importantly to protect the safety of some very vulnerable young Texans.
Abbott said on Sunday that he would decide later this week on whether to call a Special Session. If he does, this is set to be a long hot summer in Texas - and it’s going to throw up some tough challenges for the tech industry. The letter to Abbott over the weekend is a commendable first step, but holding the line here is going to take a lot of nerve. That said, the number of big hitters signed up so far should give any politician pause for thought.