4 of Tech’s Biggest Names are Driving the Next LGBT Rights Battle
When the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage in June, tech companies were among the first to celebrate. Facebook rolled out its rainbow-tinted filters for profile photos, and Google’s homepage displayed an image of people of all colors holding hands to accompany the search term “gay marriage.” But the fight for gay rights is far from over. A bill aimed at protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans was recently introduced into Congress, and some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley are again stepping up to lend their support.
Sponsored by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, the Equality Act would extend protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill seeks to add explicit protections against discrimination in areas including public accommodations, federal funding, jury service, employment, and access to credit. Though same-sex marriage is legal nationwide, 31 states still lack basic protections against discrimination, which means that gay Americans in most states can be legally fired from their job for getting married.
Since the Equality Act was introduced into Congress on July 23, more than a dozen American companies have publicly endorsed it, including American Airlines, General Mills, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Orbitz, Levi Strauss & Co., Nike, and Hewlett-Packard. Here’s why four of the biggest names in tech are showing their support for the Equality Act, and how it aligns with their legacy of LGBT advocacy.
Facebook: It comes as no surprise that the company that convinced more than 26 million people to change their profile picture to support same-sex marriage has also been an outspoken champion of the Equality Act. The social media giant scored a perfect 100 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2015 Corporate Equality Index, which measures factors including nondiscrimination policies, inclusive benefits, and diversity practices. But not everyone sees Facebook as an LGBT ally: Transgender activists say its “authentic name policy” can be discriminatory for those using a name other than the one they were born with.
Google: The popular search engine has long used its Google doodles—the illustrated images that accompany its home page—to advocate for gay rights in universal ways that transcend language barriers. In advance of the Sochi Olympics last year, for example, Google rolled out a rainbow-colored portrait of athletes to advocate for equality in Russia, which cracked down on gay rights around the time of the 2014 winter games. It’s no wonder Google also consistently ranks high on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index: Back in 2010, long before same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, Google began offering to reimburse gay employees for the cost of health benefits for their domestic partners.
Apple: As the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Apple CEO Tim Cook has made the company’s antidiscrimination stance loud and clear while also sending a powerful message to other leading companies: discrimination is bad for business. That was the premise of his March op-ed for The Washington Post in which he warned against discriminatory laws such as one that had recently passed in Indiana and has since been amended to protect LGBT rights. In an op-ed two years prior for The Wall Street Journal, Cook advocated for the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which has been introduced in all but one congressional session since 1994. Merkley, the Oregon senator behind the Equality Act, introduced it last in 2013, when it passed the Senate but died in the House.
Amazon: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos became one of the country’s largest financial supporters of gay rights when he donated $2.5 million to promote a bill that passed in 2012, legalizing sex marriage later that year in Washington state. Amazon took the top spot in this year’s YouGov ranking of the best-perceived brands among LGBT Americans. Apple and its iPhone ranked second and third, respectively.
A majority of Americans are in favor of a federal law that protects against employment discrimination, according to a 2014 nationwide survey by the Human Rights Campaign, but the Equality Act is likely to face opposition from a Republican-controlled Congress.