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Will lack of LGBT protections cost Ohio Amazon HQ2, other business?
Bennett Leckrone Columbus Dispatch
(February 3, 2018) — Columbus made the second cut for Amazon’s second headquarters — a $5 billion investment that would create 50,000 jobs — but some LGBT advocates are calling for the company to drop the city from consideration.
“No Gay, No Way!” is a campaign urging Amazon to avoid moving their second headquarters to a state without LGBT protections, spokesman Chris Fleming said. While the city of Columbus has laws protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination, it is one of nine under consideration for Amazon’s “HQ2″ in states that don’t offer protections for LGBT individuals in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodating. A total of 20 cities are being considered.
The other cities the campaign urges Amazon to avoid include Atlanta; Miami; Nashville; Raleigh, N.C; Indianapolis; Austin; Dallas; and the Washington suburbs of northern Virginia. Fleming said despite Columbus’s non-discrimination policies, the campaign was still urging Amazon to avoid the city.
Jonathan Lovitz, the vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, said states that pass non-discrimination laws have a better chance of attracting new businesses.
“There is a direct correlation between intentionally including and welcoming diversity in your community … and attractiveness to corporations,” Lovitz said.
Ohio lawmakers are currently considering House Bill 160, which would ban LGBT discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation. Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, has introduced the legislation unsuccessfully every year since she was elected in 2011.
The bill had a committee hearing Wednesday to consider proponent testimony — the first of its kind since a similar bill was introduced in 2009. Antonio said strong business support, including the support of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, helped the bill she is sponsoring to its unprecedented hearing.
Both LGBT advocates and business representatives attended the hearing, saying the legislation wouldn’t just help Ohio’s LGBT population, but would boost the economy of the entire state by creating a larger talent pool.
In his testimony at the hearing, Jason Rudman, a senior leader at a Fortune 500 company in Cleveland, said his decision to come to Ohio from Manhattan with his husband and children was influenced by Cleveland’s anti-discrimination ordinances.
“My family represents just one of the many instances in which talented and civic-minded individuals are willing to move and positively contribute to communities that embrace them. Cities and states that win are those that attract and retain the best talent,” Rudman said. “In this increasingly mobile economy, LGBTQ talent has many options and will undoubtedly consider the way they will be treated by law as a significant factor in determining where to live and work.”
Chris Long of the Ohio Christian Alliance, who is among the bill’s opponents, said the measure actually would costs businesses money because of inevitable lawsuits.
“Ohio is a tolerant and diverse state. House Bill 160, however, creates division and special rights that will infringe on the rights of others,” he said.
“This legislation violates the privacy and safety rights of women and children, and unnecessarily eliminates religious freedoms.”
Ohio Business Competes, a coalition of more than 300 employers, is supporting the bill. Lisa Barton, the vice president of transmission for American Electric Power, one of the companies in the coalition, said in a statement that the bill would improve both diversity and competition in the state.
“We’ve worked hard to develop a culture at AEP that supports diversity and inclusion, which is critical to attracting and retaining a talented workforce,” Barton said. “For the state to be competitive and attract new investments, it’s important that prospective employees and businesses know Ohio is open to and values everyone.”
According to research by Wei Zhang and Huasheng Gao, businesses created more patents after their respective states passed employment non-discrimination acts (EDNAs).
The research found that the amount of patents produced by businesses in states with EDNAs increased by eight percent compared to businesses states without protections. The research attributes this to more creative individuals, both LGBT and not, entering the state.
Lovitz said as LGBT individuals gain access to more information, they tend to move to places where they would be accepted.
“Access to information and opportunity has allowed LGBT Americans to make more informed choices about where they spend their money and where they move their families,”
Anthony Kreis, a visiting assistant professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, said his research on the topic indicates that there are no disadvantages to passing non-discrimination laws. Kreis said many of the most economically robust regions of the country, like California and New York, have protections.
“When people feel comfortable in their workplace … that makes for a better workforce,” Kreis said. “The legal protections are incredibly important.”
Ohio is one of 28 states that doesn’t offer protections to LGBT individuals in the private sector.