Tech Company Ditches Georgia Because of Bill That Undermines LGBT Rights

Tech company founder Kelvin Williams would rather do business in a state that protects the rights of LGBT citizens.
Rainbow flags proudly displayed at a church. (Photo: Ron Egozi/Getty Images)
Mar 18, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Known for peaches, pecans, and good old Southern hospitality, Georgia has also become a popular state for budding businesses thanks to its low cost of living and growing workforce. But a religious liberty bill that many critics say enshrines LGBT discrimination into law is sending at least one business packing.

“I don’t want to fund Georgia with my corporate income taxes when they want to pass legislation to allow discrimination,” Kelvin Williams, founder of telecommunications company 373K, told TakePart. Williams, a gay man, announced that his company was officially incorporated in Delaware on Thursday. Of the 20 people that work for 373K, only five live in Georgia and work at its headquarters in Decatur. They will each be able to decide whether they want to move to Delaware or work remotely from Georgia.

Williams decided to pack his bags back in February when the First Amendment Defense Act passed the Georgia Senate. The bill allows faith-based organizations to deny employment, along with social, charitable, and educational services, based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Advocates for LGBT rights fear that the broad language used to define such organizations will allow any business to deny services based on religious beliefs, from refusing to bake a wedding cake to denying an adoption. The bill passed Georgia’s House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Before it becomes law, the bill still needs to be signed by Gov. Nathan Deal—a Republican who believes that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Deal has pushed for compromise among lawmakers, telling the Journal that he would reject any measure that “allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith.”

The bill explicitly states that religious freedom cannot be used to discriminate against those protected by state law. However, sexual orientation and gender identity are not included as protected classes in Georgia’s civil rights code.

Delaware already has laws in place to protect rights of its LGBT residents, which made it an appealing state for Williams to set up shop.

“We wanted to make sure that wherever we went has anti-bullying, antiharassment, antidiscrimination, and had either gay marriage or civil unions before the Supreme Court ruling,” Williams said.

A single company moving won’t cripple Georgia’s economy, but other companies have threatened to pull out of the Peach State as well. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said his company would reduce investments in Georgia and move an upcoming conference to a more LGBT-friendly state unless Deal vetoes the law, Business Insider reports. More than 400 companies—including Twitter, Microsoft, Delta, and Unilever—have signed a petition against the First Amendment Defense Act.

Deal will have until May 3 to make a final decision. Should he veto the bill, the Senate could still override it with a two-thirds consensus—which it already achieved when the bill passed in February.

Williams isn’t sticking around to find out what happens. He’s trying to grow 373K and is determined to attract the best and brightest talent.

“The way I look at it, here I am a gay man; if this legislation was to pass and I wasn’t living in the state and someone called and offered me a job, I don’t think I’d probably want to move here,” he said.