Metro Weekly

More than 100 corporations publicly support the Equality Act

Despite support, the bill is likely to stall in a Republican-controlled Congress

Photo: Office of Congressman David Cicilline, via Facebook.

Over 100 companies are voicing their support for a federal nondiscrimination law to protect LGBTQ people.

On Monday, the Human Rights Campaign announced that it has recruited 104 corporate sponsors, employing more than 5.8 million people, to join its Business Coalition for the Equality Act.

The Equality Act would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to provide protections in employment, housing, and public accommodations to LGBTQ people, to ensure they are not discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

By creating the coalition and recruiting corporate sponsors, HRC hopes to highlight the support that LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections enjoy among some of the nation’s top employers.

Indeed, many of the members of the coalition already enjoy high ratings on HRC’s annual Corporate Equality Index, meaning they have company-wide nondiscrimination policy in place and offer extensive medical, insurance, or spousal benefits to their LGBTQ employees.

The coalition initially launched in March with about 60 members. Since then, HRC and other allies have been actively lobbying various corporations to get on board.

“The more than 100 businesses that have joined HRC’s Business Coalition for the Equality Act are sending a loud and clear message that the time has come for full federal equality,” Chad Griffin, the president of HRC, said in a statement. “This is a milestone in corporate support for the Equality ACt, and we urge Congress to listen to this growing chorus of American businesses and protect all LGBTQ people from discrimination.”

Companies that are members of the coalition include Accenture, Adobe Systems, Inc., Airbnb Inc., American Airlines, Bank of America, Booz Allen Hamilton, Capital One Financial Corp., The Coca-Cola Co., The Dow Chemical Co., Google Inc., The Hershey Company, Hewlett Packard Enterprises, Microsoft, Monsanto, Sodexo Inc., Target Corp., Twitter, Uber, and Xerox, among others.

“As the first company to publicly support passage of the federal Equality Act in the United States, we recognize the fight for equality is far from over,” Cory Valente, global leader for the LGBTQ and allies Employee Resource Group at Dow Chemical, said in a statement. “No one should be fired, evicted from their home, or denied services because of who they are. Supporting inclusion and equality is the rights thing to do — for business and society.”

Yet despite the support of major corporations and the business community, the Equality Act is likely to run into the same hurdles that prevent LGBTQ advocates from successfully passing nondiscrimination laws at the state level: a lack of political power. In Congress, as in most state legislatures, Republicans — and specifically, those hostile to LGBTQ rights — control the levers of power.

The last time that a gay rights bill passed the House of Representatives was in 2007, under Democratic control, when representatives approved a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which specifically excluded protections for transgender individuals.

A version of ENDA passed the Senate in 2013, when Democrats still controlled the chamber. Since then, despite a number of individual Republicans expressing support for LGBTQ rights (particularly in the Senate), bills that would provide such protections have been scuttled or blocked from votes by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In addition, not all LGBTQ groups have expressed support for the Equality Act. The Log Cabin Republicans opposes the bill because the organization believes it does not have robust enough religious exemptions for those opposed to homosexuality.

Given the likelihood of Republicans retaining control in Congress for at least the next decade, the only way such a bill will pass is to get substantial numbers of Republicans to vote for it — a huge undertaking, particularly for House members who find themselves in gerrymandered districts and might fear a primary challenge.

A recent poll by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute finds that 72 percent of Americans overall, and a majority of resident of all 50 states, support “a law” that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. However, the survey did not specifically ask about the Equality Act, and made no mention of religious exemptions that might be included in the bill to entice Republicans. As a result, actual support might fall well below the percentage of those who hypothetically support an LGBTQ rights law.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com