LGBT rights advocates in the three D.C.-area jurisdictions named by Amazon last week as being among 20 finalist cities or regions in contention for the corporate giant’s second headquarters have been touting their jurisdictions’ strong record in support of LGBT rights.
Amazon announced on Jan. 18 that D.C., Northern Virginia, and Montgomery County, Md., were among 20 finalist jurisdictions that made the cut from 238 cities and regions in North America that submitted bids to become the high tech company’s second world headquarters referred to as HQ2.
Amazon’s record as a strong supporter of nondiscrimination protections for its LGBT employees and its overall support for LGBT equality has prompted the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, to assign the company a perfect 100 percent rating for its annual Corporate Equality Index.
This has prompted speculation that Amazon would likely consider a state, city, or region’s laws and policies on LGBT issues as a factor in choosing the location of the new multi-billion dollar headquarters, which is expected to bring with it 50,000 high-paying jobs.
Among the 20 cities Amazon named in its list of finalists for the new headquarters, 11 have received a 100 percent rating in HRC’s 2017 Municipal Equality Index that assesses LGBT related laws and practices. The 11 include Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Boston; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Denver; Los Angeles; New York City; Philadelphia; and Pittsburgh.
HRC considers D.C. as a state rather than a city and includes it in its separate State Equality Index, which does not provide a numerical rating. HRC’s 2017 State Equality Index report places D.C. and 13 states in the highest of four categories that assess LGBT rights policies and laws for the 50 states. The category is called “Working Toward Innovative Equality.”
Based on HRC’s criteria for assessing the LGBT-related records for both states and cities, D.C. would have received a 100 percent rating in HRC’s Municipal Equality Index if it were classified as a city.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser frequently cites the city’s extensive and wide-ranging LGBT supportive laws and policy directives in her public appearances at LGBT events.
HRC doesn’t issue ratings or assessments for regions such as Northern Virginia. However, its Municipal Equality Index for 2017 assigns a rating score of 96 to Arlington County and a score of 86 to the City of Alexandria, which are among the largest jurisdictions that comprise Northern Virginia.
The HRC Municipal Equality Index doesn’t issue a rating score for Montgomery County, Md. But it has assigned a 2017 rating score for two of its largest cites – 100 percent for the city of Rockville and 59 percent for the city of Gaithersburg.
In its state Equality Index assessments, HRC places Maryland in the second highest category called “Solidifying Equality.” It says a state in this category has nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people and is “high-performing” on LGBT issues but does not rise to the “cutting-edge” level of LGBT accomplishments of D.C. and the 13 states in the top category, including California and New York.
The HRC 2017 State Equality Index places Virginia in the lowest of the four categories called “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality.” According to HRC, the 27 states in this category “have many laws that undermine LGBTQ equality.” HRC says an “overwhelming majority” of states in this category, including Virginia, do not have anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity protections and few have hate crimes laws.
Despite Virginia’s less than supportive record on a state level, LGBT rights advocates in Northern Virginia point out that as a region, Northern Virginia’s elected officials and its policies and local laws are highly supportive on LGBT rights.
Jean Kelleher, director of the Alexandria Office on Human Rights, told the Washington Blade that Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax counties have added sexual orientation protections to their human rights ordinances. She said the three jurisdictions have embraced the U.S. Equality Employment Opportunity Commission’s interpretation of the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Act to include protection against discrimination based on gender identity as well as sexual orientation as a form of gender discrimination.
Kelleher said invoking the EEOC’s interpretation and official legal opinion enables Northern Virginia jurisdictions to protect LGBT people from discrimination despite a longstanding state law that created what’s known as the Dillon Rule. Among other things, the Dillon Rule prohibits local jurisdictions in the state such as counties and cities from enacting or enforcing laws, including civil rights laws, whose provisions go beyond the scope of a state law.
“The Dillon Rule has constrained us in the past but we are continuously moving forward,” Kelleher said.
Nick Benton, the gay editor and publisher of the Falls Church, Va., News Press, which covers state and local current events in Virginia, said he has a strong message for Amazon should it decide to consider the LGBT rights record of a jurisdiction competing for its second corporate headquarters:
“Right now there is no place more LGBT friendly than Northern Virginia, even if the archaic state laws in Virginia limit what kinds of format protections local jurisdictions here can enforce,” Benton said.
He noted that although the Dillon Rule officially prevents local jurisdictions from passing or enforcing LGBT rights laws, nearly all of the Northern Virginia jurisdictions have adopted resolutions “unanimously expressing full support for diversity in employment, housing” and other categories.
Benton and other LGBT advocates in Northern Virginia also note that there are currently three openly gay members and one “out and proud” transgender member of the Virginia General Assembly from Northern Virginia.
Dana Beyer, a longtime civic activist, transgender rights organizer, and current candidate for the Maryland State Senate, has put in a plug for Montgomery County’s quest for the Amazon headquarters.
“It would be very satisfying to know that Amazon was seriously considering a locality’s LGBTQ rights record in its decision to situate its second headquarters,” Beyer said. “If so, my home county, Montgomery County, Md., would be ideal,” she continued.
“Beginning with sexual orientation protections first introduced and defended in 1986, and then followed by similar gender identity protections added and defended in 2007, my county has been a civil rights leader in the state and country,” she told the Blade. “Amazon’s employees would derive great benefit and satisfaction from the affirming culture being created here.”
Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, said that based on a wide range of factors, including its strong record on LGBT rights, “D.C. is by far the best location for Amazon’s second corporate headquarters.”
Alexander-Reid notes that D.C. in 2009 became one of the first jurisdictions in the country to legally recognize same-sex marriage – “three years before Maryland and five years before Virginia.” She said that under Mayor Bowser’s leadership, D.C. has “intentionally created a safe space” for LGBTQ residents.
“By providing public accommodation laws that protect against discrimination, gender neutral markers on identification and drivers’ licenses, the ability to legally change names on birth certificates and drivers licenses to correspond with gender identity, the District is leading the country in affirming transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning/queer residents,” she said.
Following is a list of the 20 cities and regions selected by Amazon as finalists in its process of selecting a home for its second world corporate headquarters. Also shown are the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index rating for cities and some counties and the HRC State Equality Index category based on the states’ records on LGBT rights. The Blade has designated the state categories as “Excellent,” “Good,” “Fair,” and “Poor” based on HRC’s criteria.
Atlanta—100% city rating; poor state rating for Georgia
Austin, Tex.—100% city rating; poor state rating for Texas
Boston—100% city rating; excellent state rating for Massachusetts
Chicago—100% city rating; excellent state rating for Illinois
Columbus, Ohio—100% city rating; poor state rating for Ohio
Dallas—100% city rating; poor state rating for Texas
Denver—100% city rating; excellent state rating for Colorado
Indianapolis—88% city rating; fair state rating for Indiana
Los Angeles—100% city rating; excellent state rating for California
Miami—59% city rating; poor state rating for Florida
Montgomery County, Md.—No county rating issued by HRC; good state rating for Maryland
Nashville, Tenn.—60% city rating; poor state rating for Tennessee
Newark, N.J.—67% city rating; good state rating for New Jersey
New York City—100% city rating; excellent state rating for New York
Northern Virginia—No regional rating issued by HRC; poor state rating for Virginia
Philadelphia—100% city rating; poor state rating for Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh—100% city rating; poor state rating for Pennsylvania
Raleigh, N.C.—60% city rating; poor state rating for North Carolina
Toronto, Ontario—No city or provincial rating issued by HRC
Washington, D.C.—No city rating issued by HRC; excellent state rating for District of Columbia