Tech titans rise up against anti-LGBT legislation in Miss., N.C.

In the past few weeks, North Carolina and Mississippi have adopted laws enabling businesses to discriminate against gays and transgender people by those who say serving them would infringe on their religious beliefs.

Some large technology companies have publicly condemned the laws, with one company making a statement by pulling a new business out of North Carolina.

"We are disappointed by the recent events in North Carolina," said Facebook, which has a data center facility in Forest City, N.C., in a posting on the facility's Facebook page. "As a company, Facebook is an open and vocal supporter of equality. We believe in ensuring the rights of LGBT individuals and oppose efforts that discriminate against people on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation."

Late last month, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed into law House Bill 2, which prevents cities and towns from protecting gays and bisexuals from discrimination, while also preventing transgender people from using restrooms that don't specifically align with their "biological sex."

That was quickly followed this week by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant's signing a similar "religious freedom" law that allows government employees to refuse to issue marriage licenses or perform marriages, while also enabling businesses to deny housing, jobs, and services for adoptions and foster care because of an individual's sexual orientation.

The laws have drawn international headlines, along with praise and outrage across the country.

Several major tech companies, along with other major corporations like PepsiCo and Disney, have come out strongly against the new laws. Online payment giant PayPal took the boldest action by announcing that it is canceling plans to open a new worldwide operations center in Charlotte, N.C. that would have added 400 skilled jobs to the area.

"The new law perpetuates discrimination and it violates the values and principles that are at the core of PayPal's mission and culture," the company said on its website. "As a result, PayPal will not move forward with our planned expansion into Charlotte. This decision reflects PayPal's deepest values and our strong belief that every person has the right to be treated equally, and with dignity and respect."

The company also said that while looking for another location for its operations center, it also will work with the LGBT community in North Carolina to overturn the legislation.

IBM, one of North Carolina's top 20 employers, also responded, tweeting, "IBM is disappointed by passage of #HB2 in NC since it reduces scope of anti-discrimination protections in state."

Google also condemned the North Carolina law, tweeting, "We believe in equal rights and equal treatment for all. This North Carolina law is misguided & wrong. #WeAreNotThis."

In Georgia, meanwhile, business backlash against a similar discriminatory bill in Georgia pushed Gov. Nathan Deal to veto that controversial legislation. In that case, Netflix and Apple were among the corporations that condemned the potential move.

Whether the statements and actions of big tech companies with social clout and deep pockets will have any effect on the latest "religious freedom" laws remains to be seen.

Judith Hurwitz, an analyst with Hurwitz & Associates, said such actions may only benefit the companies that take a stand against discriminatory laws.

"Technology companies do have an influence in communities, since they are offering new generation jobs that are needed in states that have lost older industrial jobs," Hurwitz told Computerworld. "I think that tech companies, given their demographics, feel an obligation to support their employees and need to set a standard for non-discrimination."

However, Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, said there's always a downside when a company aligns itself with one side in a political or social debate.

"This doesn't make sense competitively," Kagan said. "This is like a company saying it's for a Democratic or Republican presidential candidate. It will both strengthen their relationships with one side and weaken them with the other."


Sharon Gaudin

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