The state of Texas has an economy the size of a small country. Its gross domestic product was estimated to be around $1.4 trillion in 2013 – larger than the GDP of nearly 20 countries. And, according to Fortune 500, six of the top 50 companies in the United States are Texas-based. With such a mighty economy, Texas is a coveted destination for businesses, tourism, conventions and special events.
But even our strongest economies can falter.
As we approach the 2017 state legislative season in Texas, we encourage elected officials to focus on strengthening and growing the Lone Star State economy into one that truly works for everyone.
Yet, as lawmakers return to Austin, many have made clear that instead of safeguarding their state’s economy, they intend to advance mean-spirited and discriminatory legislation targeting LGBTQ people. On Jan. 5, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst announced their plans for Senate Bill 6 – a bill in the style of North Carolina’s HB2 – which aims to discriminate against transgender Texans.
The bill would overturn nondiscrimination ordinances currently providing critical protections in several major Texas cities; further, it would force state agencies, municipalities, public schools and public universities to discriminate against transgender people. By making it illegal for transgender people in Texas to be afforded access to facilities consistent with their identity, it opens them up to increased discrimination and harassment as they simply live their everyday lives. It also exposes Texas to tremendous risk of the kind of financial, legal, and political blowback that North Carolina has continued to reckon with after the passage of HB2.
We speak from experience when we say that the Texas lawmakers working overtime to worsen this already challenging reality for many LGBTQ Texans are putting the state’s economy at risk. In states including Indiana and North Carolina, we have seen that once lawmakers choose to discriminate, businesses and other organizations frequently make a choice as well, saying “no, thanks” to doing business with and in states that champion discrimination.
A recent study released by the Keep Texas Open for Business coalition and commissioned by the Texas Association of Business shows that the state could suffer a loss of $8.5 billion in GDP and 185,000 jobs if the state moves forward on any anti-LGBTQ bills. And, for what? To discriminate against LGBTQ people, strip away hard-won rights and fight phantom, imagined issues?
Texas could lose so much and gain absolutely nothing by pursuing anti-LGBTQ laws such as SB 6. Many Texans are likely familiar with the debacle of the HB2 law in North Carolina. The measure, which discriminates against transgender North Carolinians, was met with a flood of criticism and resulted in the state losing hundreds of millions of dollars — and counting — in revenue. Conventions, concerts and sporting events alike elected to do business elsewhere, with HB2 as the reason.
Both the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference specifically cited HB2 in their decisions to move tournaments out of North Carolina. Musicians including Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam canceled concerts.
Texas is set to host the 2018 NCAA Men’s Final Four basketball tournament and is the site of thousands of concerts, conventions and special events every year. Do lawmakers really want to give away these hugely profitable events to other states?
It’s long been clear that being anti-LGBTQ is an economic liability, but, as we saw with the gubernatorial race in North Carolina, it’s also become a political liability. Gov. Pat McCrory became the only sitting U.S. governor to lose his election in 2016 – even though he belongs to the same political party as President-elect Donald Trump, who won North Carolina. A poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner showed that 57 percent of voters in North Carolina cast their vote due to HB2. The anti-LGBTQ law cost North Carolina millions of dollars and unseated an incumbent governor. Why would Texas have any interest in repeating that mistake?
We call on lawmakers in Texas who truly care about protecting the future of their state to reject any attack on the LGBTQ community. Do not pass SB 6. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s good for Texas. The choice could not be clearer.
Warbelow is the legal director for the Human Rights Campaign.