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Bathroom Battle Draws in Big Business

Light snow falls on the Dow Chemical Co. Michigan OperationsLight snow falls on the Dow Chemical Co. Michigan Operations
Dow Chemical signage.Photograph by Jeff Kowalsky — Bloomberg via Getty Images

The battle over bathrooms in North Carolina is once again putting big business on the front lines of the nation’s culture wars.

In case you aren’t following: The North Carolina legislature called a special session Wednesday to void a Charlotte ordinance that would have enabled transgender people to legally use restrooms aligned with their gender identity. The new law makes North Carolina the first state to require people to use bathrooms that match their gender at birth.

Businesses operating in the state, including American Airlines (AAL), IBM (IBM), Dow Chemical (DOW), Biogen (BIIB) and Paypal (PYPL)—which just last week announced plans to hire 400 people in Charlotte—took to Twitter to condemn the law, and put the state on notice that it could affect their willingness to invest. Even the NCAA joined in, threatening to withhold championship games from the state—a potentially mortal blow to basketball-obsessed North Carolinians. You can read IBM’s statement here.



Taking a more cautious path was Bank of America (BAC), which is one of the state’s largest employers. It didn’t specifically condemn the law, but did release a statement saying the company is “steadfast in our commitment to non-discrimination and in our support for LGBT employees through progressive workplace policies and practices.”

This is just the latest example of businesses taking on state legislatures on behalf of LGBT employees. Salesforce (CRM) CEO Marc Benioff has been leading a business campaign against a “religious liberty” law in Georgia, after doing the same in Indiana last year. It’s also a dramatic change from an era when business leaders preferred to stay out of controversial social issues that didn’t directly hit their bottom line.

And if you missed it yesterday, be sure to read Adam Lashinsky’s story from our April magazine on how Jeff Bezos is becoming a power beyond Amazon (AMZN). Bezos topped Fortune’s new list of World’s Greatest Leaders.

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