Amazon’s stunning, non-stop growth has brought the need for a second headquarters campus that promises 50,000 new high-paid jobs for the lucky city that lands it.
The company issued an RFP last year for the new headquarters — dubbed HQ2 —and 238 jurisdictions large and small scrambled to assemble the most lucrative tax breaks and promises of infrastructure improvements to lure those jobs.
A handful of jurisdictions in our region submitted bids, including Northern Virginia, Richmond, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Several media outlets and experts have put D.C. and Baltimore on the likely short list of sites to be considered.
Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos have sterling records on LGBT equality issues. In 2012, Bezos and his wife donated $2.5 million to help pass a marriage equality referendum in Washington State. Last year, HRC presented Bezos with its Equality Award. In his acceptance speech, Bezos said, “We live in a more accepting world than our grandparents. And our grandchildren will live in an even more accepting world – where they’ll be embraced for who they are, how they identify, and who they love. I’m incredibly optimistic – so many companies, communities, and organizations like HRC are embracing this future and helping to create it.”
But many lawmakers across the country — emboldened by our racist, homophobic, transphobic president — are not embracing a future of LGBT equality. They are working to roll back the progress of the Obama era and, among other things, to enable business owners to turn away gay customers.
Some of those lawmakers are working hard to enshrine their hatred of LGBT people in local and state laws in places that aspire to host HQ2. According to Amazon’s RFP, “The Project requires a compatible cultural and community environment for its long-term success. This includes the presence and support of a diverse population.”
Amazon and Bezos should continue their record of LGBT support by considering LGBT equality issues in the RFP process. In fact, the business community has led the way in combating so-called “religious freedom” laws, including the notorious measure signed by then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Amazon has an opportunity to send a powerful message to lawmakers everywhere that the business leaders of America will not reward anti-LGBT hatred.
Numerous cities in states with abysmal records hostile to their LGBT residents have submitted bids for HQ2, including Austin, Atlanta and Louisville. Amazon should take a hard pass on all of them.
In Georgia, the state Senate overwhelmingly passed a religious freedom bill in 2016 that was ultimately vetoed by a Republican governor only after large companies like Disney pressured him to do so. Georgia lacks statewide LGBT non-discrimination protections. In Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin just last year signed a bill allowing student groups at high schools and public colleges to turn away LGBT people out of religious objections. Texas — along with Alabama and South Dakota — enacted laws in 2017 allowing taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to deny placements in homes based on religious objections, which will result in discrimination against LGBT families.
Rewarding these jurisdictions with Amazon’s 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in capital expenditures would send a message to those lawmakers that they can continue to discriminate against their LGBT constituents with impunity — and maybe even be rewarded for it.
Amazon has a long record of inclusive employment practices, going back to its founding in 1994. By incorporating LGBT rights into its RFP process, it can continue to lead the business community in the right direction on equality issues — and find a new corporate home that is welcoming to all of its employees.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.