From Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC:
Responding to a public outcry from prominent players in Arizona’s business community, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill last week that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gay people on the grounds of religious belief.
Brewer’s decisive reaction to economic interests in the Arizona marketplace sends a strong message to other states considering similar legislation: in addition to the societal costs of these extreme laws, there’s also a high economic price to pay for blatant LGBT discrimination.
And in this day and age, businesses know discrimination is a luxury few of them can afford.
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We saw this sentiment play out recently in our own state when Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, quickly reversed course to allow family coverage for same-sex couples. Prompted by public pressure after BCBSNC had denied coverage, and, in some cases, even canceled existing coverage held by gay North Carolinians, in only a matter of a few days, the company made the commendable decision to publicly announce it was wrong and would be amending its policies’ definition of “spouse” to include same-sex couples.
The company’s decision here at home has prompted other insurance companies in Ohio and Pennsylvania to answer to their own state’s demands for health care equity and offer similar coverage for gay couples.
Much like BCBSNC’s quick turnaround, Arizona’s overwhelming business backlash has become a bellwether for similar anti-LGBT policy debates in other states, and has renewed the rallying cry that discrimination – in any form – is bad for business. In this instance, the Arizona business community was forced to provide rapid response once the legislature passed legislation they knew would be a detriment to tourism, hospitality, and recruitment efforts.
I can tell you this, though, from my previous time in economic development – many of our businesses large and small, as well as our business support mechanisms like Chambers of Commerce, already know how detrimental anti-LGBT bills are for the Old North State.
That’s why we believe it is good business to step out and speak as a unified voice before we have an Arizona experience. And this is the reason for Equality NC’s Business Equality Council. Launching in spring 2014, North Carolina’s leading advocacy organization for LGBT North Carolinians will provide a formal network for businesses and their leaders who champion pro-equality values. Our BEC will set the standard for business support of the state’s fast-growing LGBT and allied populations and provide a model for helping the state follow the business community’s lead in providing workplace protections, safety and accommodations for gay and transgender citizens.
We’re confident North Carolina business leaders will be lining up to join.
After all, it was companies like Apple, American Airlines and the NFL that spurred recent protests of the anti-gay law in Arizona. In Georgia, where a similar bill is on the table, Atlanta-based Delta Airlines has led the call for the state legislature to reject the measure.
Now’s the time for North Carolina’s economic interests to step up to the pro-equality plate.
And with it keep the state on the right side of the balance sheet as well as the right side of history.