Tech Leaders Decry “Bathroom Bills” Aimed at Transgender People

Austin—The Texas Legislature convened today in a special session and among the issues lawmakers will debate include controversial “bathroom bills,” legislation that would require transgender people to use restrooms that match the sex of their birth.

Prominent tech leaders—from IBM, Google, Facebook, Dell, and other companies—have come out against these types of bills. These leaders say such a law would impair the state’s ability to recruit and retain talented technology workers needed to promote a thriving economy.

“As large employers in the state, we are gravely concerned that any such legislation would deeply tarnish Texas’ reputation as open and friendly to businesses and families,” tech leaders wrote in a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at the end of the regular legislative session in May. “Our ability to attract, recruit and retain top talent, encourage new business relocations, expansions and investment, and maintain our economic competitiveness would all be negatively affected.”

Among those that signed the letter were Apple CEO Tim Cook, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, and Dell CEO Michael Dell.

On Monday, IBM posted a blog that voiced its opposition to the proposed laws. “A bathroom bill like the one in Texas sends a message that it is okay to discriminate against someone just for being who they are,” wrote Diane Gherson, IBM’s senior vice president of human resources. “It threatens IBM’s ability to bring the best and brightest to our Texas workforce—a community that is now over 10,000 strong and represents a diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences.”

On Sunday, IBM published full-page ads in three of the state’s largest newspapers stating its opposition to a bathroom bill in any form.

The mere discussion of implementing a law like the bathroom bills have caused some tech companies to say they are already starting to see ramifications, the Austin American-Statesman reported. Barbary Brunner, CEO of the Austin Technology Council, told the newspaper that Austin recruiters have told her that senior-level executives are “holding off on decisions about taking roles here” because they don’t want to live in a state with regulations that seem discriminatory.

North Carolina suffered economic repercussions when state leaders there passed a similar law last year. The National Basketball Association pulled its 2017 All-Star Game, which had been slated Charlotte. (Following a partial repeal of the law, the NBA said its All-Star Game will be played in Charlotte in 2019.) PayPal cancelled plans to open an operations center in the city, costing 400 jobs. The magazine Wired estimated that opposition from businesses that disagreed with the law cost North Carolina more than $395 million.

In February, as Texas lawmakers began their session, the Texas Association of Business released a report stating that bathroom bill laws could cost the state $8 billion in economic fallout and 100,000 jobs.

“Such legislation could exact significant economic and social costs and have direct and lasting impacts on the state’s ability to recruit and retain business and attract a talented, vibrant workforce,” the association concluded.

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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