In a little-noticed development, Amazon’s surprise announcement in September that it plans to open a second headquarters has prompted growing speculation on whether the corporate giant will consider a state or city’s laws on LGBT issues as a factor in choosing the location of the new headquarters.
Based on the size and scope of its current corporate headquarters in Seattle, observers familiar with the tech company say the new headquarters will likely result in a workforce of 50,000 and a $5 billion boost to the local economy of the city and state Amazon chooses.
LGBT rights groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, have noted that Amazon is among the most LGBT supportive corporations in the nation. It received a perfect 100 percent score on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index.
In October, HRC named Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos the winner of its National Equality Award for his and his company’s LGBT supportive policies, including his personal financial support for efforts to bring about marriage equality. Bezos appeared as one of the lead speakers at HRC’s annual national dinner in D.C. at the time he accepted the HRC award.
Given Amazon’s strong support for LGBT rights, many in the LGBT and the business community have speculated that the company would at least consider a state and city’s record on LGBT issues as a possible condition for selecting the state and city for its new headquarters.
In some cities, such as Atlanta and Houston, which are considered to be among the top contenders for the new Amazon headquarters, LGBT activists have expressed concern that their respective states’ poor record on LGBT rights could jeopardize their chances of landing the Amazon headquarters, even though the two cities have strong records of support for LGBT equality.
“The reality is many of the big cities in America, particularly in Texas – Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, El Paso – are islands in a big toxic red state,” said lesbian activist and former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who was named earlier this month as CEO of the Victory Fund.
“And it’s painful to have the cities where many of our LGBTQ community live and work and where many of our officials are elected be penalized because of state actions that are discriminatory,” Parker told the Washington Blade on Tuesday.
Parker said she doesn’t know the status of Houston’s bid for Amazon’s new headquarters, which is being referred to as “HQ2.” But she said that as someone who represented Houston in the recent past she doesn’t want to see the city penalized.
Jeff Graham, executive director of the statewide LGBT advocacy group Georgia Equality, said he was hopeful that Amazon and other corporations considering moving to Atlanta would look past efforts by some in the state legislature to pass an anti-LGBT “religious liberties” bill.
Georgia’s Republican governor, Nathan Deal, vetoed a so-called religious freedom restoration act, or RFRA bill, in 2016 and has urged the state legislature not to jeopardize Georgia’s effort to attract Amazon by trying to pass a similar bill again next year.
LGBT rights advocates say the RFRA laws give businesses and some individuals a right to refuse to sell products or provide services to LGBT people on grounds of their personal religious beliefs.
“While Amazon has not been explicit about the impact that legislation such as RFRA would have on any specific bid, most observers agree that this is likely to be a factor in the determination of where their new headquarters will be located,” Graham said.
“It also should be noted that while the state lacks LGBT protections, the city of Atlanta has had an inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance on the books for nearly 20 years,” Graham said. “Finally, it’s important to point out that some 700 companies throughout Georgia have signed the Georgia Prospers pledge,” said Graham.
He said the pledge explicitly states that a prosperous business environment is dependent upon communities that are open and welcoming to a diverse population, including members of the LGBT community.
Other cities and states that have announced they have placed bids for the new Amazon headquarters include D.C., Virginia, Baltimore, Miami and Pittsburgh.
An Amazon spokesperson did not respond to a request from the Washington Blade to confirm whether its criteria for selecting a city and state for its new headquarters include supportive laws and policies for the LGBT community.
Amazon observers have pointed to the request for proposals that Amazon released when it announced it was looking for a location for its new headquarters. Among the criteria mentioned in the RFP was a reference to a “cultural community fit” for its workers along with the “presence and support of a diverse population.”
Some have interpreted that to mean the company wants the new host city and state to be supportive of LGBT people who would be expected to be part of Amazon’s workforce.
The Seattle Times, which closely covers Amazon-related developments in the company’s Seattle headquarters, reported that the company has disclosed some factors it would also look for in a new location include a close proximity to an international airport, a tech talent pool in the workforce, and a relatively low cost of living in the city or state.
Sara Warbelow, HRC’s legal director, said HRC is closely monitoring the impact companies like Amazon have on efforts by LGBT rights groups to push for supportive laws and policies in states and cities.
“One of the things we have asked corporations to do is weigh in with governors and state legislators explaining to them why it’s bad for business to target LGBTQ people in negative ways and to not adopt common sense nondiscrimination policies for LGBTQ people,” Warbelow said.
Warbelow was cautious in her response when asked whether HRC has specifically called on Amazon to adopt a state’s record on LGBT rights as criteria or condition for selecting a location for its new headquarters.
“We do a lot of education to a variety of corporations using our tools, including the Corporate Equality Index, the Municipal Equality Index and State Equality Index,” she said. “We are constantly providing information to corporations about the rights of LGBTQ people and impacts on us.”