Business Backlash Descends on Mississippi

Business leaders ask Mississippi to repeal its anti-LGBT law
Clockwise from upper left: Walter Robb; Tony West; Chip Bergh; Alex Dimitrief; Andrew Liveris; Brian Tippens; Steve Joyce

Major tech, hospitality, and automotive companies are speaking out about Mississippi’s new anti-LGBT law, which Gov. Phil Bryant signed Tuesday. 

The law, known as House Bill 1523 or the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” will allow businesses, individuals, and religiously affiliated organizations to deny service to LGBT people, single mothers, and others who somehow offend an individual's "sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction." It also directly targets transgender residents, effectively claiming that one's sex assigned at birth is immutable, and will be the only gender recognized by the state. The law takes effect July 1. 

At press time, leaders of eight major corporations have signed on to a letter drafted by the Human Rights Campaign urging the state’s Republican leadership to repeal the law.

“Put simply, HB 1523 is not a bill that reflects the values of our companies,” reads the letter, noting that the business community has overwhelmingly rejected such discrimination, finding that a welcoming environment attracts the best and brightest employees. “We are disappointed to see the legislature and governor’s office pass discriminatory legislation… This is not a direction in which states move when they are seeking to provide successful, thriving hubs for business and economic development.”

In addition to impacting the ability of Mississippi companies to attract high-value workers, the new law “will also diminish the state’s draw as a destination for tourism, new businesses, and economic activity,” the letter states. “Discrimination is wrong, and we believe it has no place in Mississippi or anywhere in our country. As companies that pride ourselves on being inclusive and welcoming to all, we strongly urge you to repeal this bill.”

The letter is signed by Chip Bergh, president and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co., Alex Dimitrief, senior vice president and general counsel for General Electric, Robb Webb, chief human resources officer for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Steve Joyce, president and CEO of Choice Hotels International, Andrew N. Liveris, CEO and chairman of the board for The Dow Chemical Company, Walter Robb, Co­-CEO of Whole Foods Market, Hewlett Packard vice president and chief diversity officer Brian Tippens, and PepsiCo’s executive vice president of government affairs, general counsel, and corporate secretary, Tony West.

Several major national companies took to Twitter on Tuesday to denounce the legislation, which LGBT advocates are decrying as the most aggressively anti-LGBT law in the country. 

Tech giant IBM issued a statement on Twitter Tuesday morning after Gov. Bryant signed the law, announcing that it “strongly opposes this discriminatory bill.” 

The same day, Levi Strauss & Co. sent out a tweet stating the clothing company’s belief that “equality and nondiscrimination fosters talent and innovation.”

Microsoft president Brad Smith said Mississippi’s passage of the bill was “very disappointing.”

As the company has in other states that have considered or passed anti-LGBT laws under the guise of “religious freedom,” Salesforce announced its opposition to the Mississippi law. CEO Marc Benioff retweeted Microsoft’s message on Wednesday, adding that “Salesforce stands with Microsoft in opposing Mississippi anti-gay laws.”

Benioff, Smith, and IBM each also signed a letter urging North Carolina lawmakers to repeal a similar anti-LGBT bill passed by that state’s Republican leadership last month. That letter was signed by more than 80 CEOs and business leaders, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Yahoo president and CEO Melissa Meyer.

Before the final vote on HB 1523 in the Mississippi House of Representatives Monday, the Human Rights Campaign and American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi held a rally outside the state capitol in Jackson, urging lawmakers to kill the bill, or the governor to veto it. Throughout the preceding week, HRC had rallied opposition to the bill among prominent employers in Mississippi, including the Mississippi Economic Council and the Mississippi Manufacturers Association. 

“It is clear that many of our members find that HB 1523 would violate their corporate policies expressly providing for an inclusive workplace environment that supports diversity,” said Jay C. Moon, president and CEO of the MMA in a statement. "MMA respectfully calls on the legislature to reconsider their stance on HB 1523 and for Gov. Phil Bryant to veto this bill before it causes any more harm to Mississippi's image."

Late last month, several prominent employers in the state voiced their opposition to what was then a bill that had passed both chambers of the state legislature, but had not yet been signed into law. Those companies included Nissan Group of North America, Toyota, MGM Resorts International, and Tyson Foods, Inc., according to Mississippi Today. 

 

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