Our Turn: Business is a growing ally to trans community

Published: 7/14/2019 12:20:06 AM

Over the past half-century, one of the most successful cultural revolutions in our country has been the recognition of the LGBTQ community.

This revolution has been hard fought in the streets, state houses and courts, but is also finding a growing ally in business. And we’re not just talking about incorporating the pride flag in marketing materials. Whether it’s pulling out of states that have sought to marginalize the trans community or participating in amicus briefs against LGBTQ discrimination – as 207 major corporations responsible for $5 trillion in yearly revenues did just this month – businesses are combating transphobia like never before. They’re sending a clear message that diversity and inclusion are good for business.

We saw this here in New Hampshire when businesses rallied in support of House Bill 1319 last year, which banned discrimination on the basis of gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations. Businesses and associations like Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, Eastern Bank, and the Business and Industry Association lent their voice and political muscle to passing the transformational law.

Businesses across the country have also demonstrated the high cost imposed on states that do not support trans identities.

In 2016, North Carolina successfully passed HB 2, which amended state law to encourage public facilities and schools to allow people to only use the restroom of their sex as designated on birth record.

Several major companies immediately backed out of plans to bring an estimated 2,900 jobs to North Carolina immediately after the bill became law. PayPal’s presence alone would have contributed nearly $200 million to North Carolina’s annual GDP. Artists like Bruce Springsteen and Cirque Du Soleil canceled shows, which left about 700 workers at Raleigh’s PNC Arena with $130,000 less in their pockets. Major investment firms like John Hancock and Morgan Stanley urged the state to repeal the law as they found clients uninterested in bonds originating from North Carolina institutions.

The public accommodations measure of HB 2 was repealed a year after its enactment, but the damage had been done. Estimates say that the law will cost the state nearly $4 billion over the following decade.

There are of course those who criticize the types of legislation that affirm the dignity and identity of transgender people: We saw plenty of discriminatory complaints here in the Granite State about HB 1319 during the two years we worked to enact it.

We witnessed it again this year when legislation to add a third gender marker to state ID and birth records was dismissed by some as “feel good” legislation. Not only are such critiques offensive, they are flat out wrong. Such fear mongering is intended to push transgender people out of public spaces – out of sight, out of mind. Fortunately, New Hampshire chose to ultimately affirm these identities just this week by passing HB 669 to allow “X” gender markers on state driver’s licenses.

Rather than caving, businesses are reinforcing their support for the trans community. For example, Sephora, a cosmetics company, is now running an ad that opens with, “They. She. He. Ze. We. We belong to something beautiful.” Companies like Lyft and many airlines are now providing third gender markers and non-binary pronoun options when people reserve a ride or a ticket. While some may grapple with the idea of adding third gender markers to government identification, businesses are not. They are leading the way in recognizing and affirming non-binary individuals.

We, too, speak from the viewpoint of business, having collectively been the management team at Teatotaller, a café in Somersworth, for several years. Teatotaller publicly celebrates the LGBTQ community. Whether you’re an employee or a customer, there is a collective sense of belonging at Teatotaller for those who may have previously faced discrimination. We chose to be open and affirming for moral and social reasons, but it turns out that it’s also great for business.

It means we have an amazing talent pool that some may not consider or look upon favorably. We also have customers who go out of their way to frequent the café because of its inclusivity and sense of community. It’s such a successful business model that Teatotaller is planning to open up another café in Concord in 2020.

As New Hampshire struggles to retain young people and be more inclusive, the celebration and affirmation of the trans community is imperative. We still have work to do to ensure lived equality for the LGBTQ community in New Hampshire, and we applaud the business community that is linked arm-in-arm in helping us achieve it, here and across the country.

(Emmett Soldati is the proprietor of Teatotaller. Palana Belken is the trans justice organizer at the ACLU of New Hampshire.)


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