Almost 200 bills have been proposed this year in more than 30 states that would limit or prohibit protection against discrimination for LGBT individuals, according to the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Five have passed into law; three have been vetoed; and 144 have died or been withdrawn. “We were like, ‘Whoa,’ and started to realize the scope of the issue,” Green says.
In response, large companies that have already contributed millions of dollars to HRC and other advocacy groups to combat anti-LGBT discrimination have been taking steps to coordinate their lobbying activities. “There’s going to be an increasing level of cooperation among companies,” says Kevin Kolevar, vice president for government affairs and public policy at Dow Chemical, who’s been involved in discussions with his counterparts at other corporations. “It’s a strengthening collaboration, but loose. You’re going to start to see the corporate community refining those efforts quite a bit, and it’s going to make more of a difference than it has.”
Corporate leaders say they’re primarily motivated not by politics but by business concerns. They need to protect their own employees, create work environments attractive to younger workers, and eliminate the headache of dealing with a patchwork of differing rules for LGBT workers across the country. Companies that support gay employees do better in the stock market, according to research released on April 15 by Credit Suisse. The study found that a group of 270 companies that supported LGBT employees outperformed a global index by 3 percent annually over the past six years.
The power of the business lobby on LGBT issues attracted attention last year after Indiana proposed legislation that would have allowed private businesses to deny service to gay people for religious reasons. “We frankly weren’t aware of it before our employees brought it to our attention,” says Salesforce’s Green. Over a period of several weeks, Green flew from San Francisco to Indianapolis to pressure legislators, without success. After the bill was signed by Republican Governor Mike Pence, Green says, “that’s when we became very active.”
The bill was ultimately amended in response to the corporate outcry from Salesforce and others. Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, which has about 25 percent of its employees in the state, made contributions to Freedom Indiana, an advocacy group supported by HRC, and to Indiana Competes, a coalition of more than 350 mostly small employers opposed to anti-LGBT laws.