Why Companies Seem to Care Less About Trans Rights Than Gay Rights

North Carolina's Capitol Building
North Carolina's Capitol Building
Matej Krajcovic—Getty Images

On Wednesday, several big names in American business threatened to scale back business in the state of Georgia if it passed a law that discriminated against gay citizens. Salesforce, the National Football League, and even Disney told Georgia that there would be repercussions if it passed such laws.

But while these companies were threatening action against a law that hasn’t even been passed, a law legalizing discrimination was passed just a bit to the north of Georgia. North Carolina’s state legislature passed a law reversing a city ordinance in Charlotte that allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. The legislation also prevents other cities from passing similar protective laws and mandates that students in the state’s public schools use the bathroom associated with their “biological sex”—that is, the sex assigned to them at birth based on anatomy.

Transgender rights groups have derided North Carolina’s move. Transgender youth are already a marginalized and vulnerable group. Forcing such people to use the bathroom for a gender with which they do not identify further stigmatizes and isolates them, these groups argue.

And yet the same companies that were so quick to jump into the fray on the proposed Georgia bill have not been so swift in North Carolina. Salesforce (CRM) offered the following statement to Fortune: “Equality is a core value at Salesforce and we are committed to protecting our employees and customers from discrimination. The law passed in North Carolina yesterday was an attack on equality and we strongly oppose it.” A representative didn’t comment on if a reduction of business in the state was a possibility.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff also said to the Huffington Post that he was unhappy with the North Carolina law and planned to lean on Bank of America, which has headquarters in North Carolina, to oppose it. To its credit, the company has spoken out for trans rights in the past. In January company executive Scott McCorkle advocated that a law in Indiana should include protections for transgender individuals.

Some other companies have spoken up. Dow and Biogen both took to Twitter to express their discontent.

Nevertheless, in the “culture war,” the religious right has largely conceded on issues like gay marriage. Instead, such conservatives have taken to using transgender rights, especially on the matter of public restrooms, as a new wedge issue.



And it’s working. A similar bill was passed in Houston last year. Some local advocates have encouraged the NFL to cancel an upcoming Super Bowl to be held in the city, but nothing has been announced so far.

Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, says that corporations will come around and announce their displeasure with the North Carolina law. She noted that the law was passed and signed within a single day, a move she thinks was designed to stop companies and other opponents from voicing their dismay before it was enacted. Benioff said to the Huffington Post that he was caught by surprise when the bill passed. And Keisling says that while the bill does especially affect trans people, it also dials back broader LGBT rights.

Requests for comment from Disney and the NFL were not immediately returned.

Companies like Disney (DIS) and the NFL may yet announce that they won’t stand by while trans citizens are discriminated against. But despite all the progress that has been made on trans issues, from the success of shows like Orange is the New Black and Transparent, to companies that help employees transition, the rights afforded to trans people have lagged behind.

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