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Big Business Takes Transgender Rights to SCOTUS

A coalition of 53 companies have signed on to a brief supporting a Virginia high school student who has brought his fight to use the bathroom that corresponds with his gender identity to the Supreme Court. (Bookmark the brief; it’s a full-throated defense of transgender rights, and well worth your time.) The companies include Fortune stalwarts Amazon, Apple, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft. Read a full list here.

The question at hand is whether the Gloucester County School Board in Virginia violated a federal anti-discrimination law two years ago when they prevented Gavin Grimm, now 17 years old, from using the bathroom of his choice. But now, with the addition of corporate heft, the question has broadened considerably. More on that in a moment.

Grimm is an unlikely but important champion for transgender rights, a kid who has become a public figure at a time when most teenagers would prefer to just blend in and figure themselves out on their own. From a Washington Post profile:

There was nothing remarkable about Gavin Grimm’s first trip to the boys’ bathroom at Gloucester High School. It was a little more than a month into his sophomore year, when the transgender teenager had begun quietly reintroducing himself to the student body as a boy.

Grimm had used men’s restrooms at restaurants, stores and the local amusement park, and using the boys’ bathroom at his school felt like “the natural progression of things,” he said. Just like cutting his hair short, just like wearing baggy pants and graphic T-shirts, just like beginning testosterone shots. He started using the boys’ bathroom shortly after he got word from Principal Nate Collins that it would be okay.

It all became quite remarkable when the community had a different view of the bathroom matter. Suddenly Grimm’s tale became a legal fight: He sued the school district last year, claiming his civil rights had been violated. Late last August, the school board asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case, and oral arguments are now scheduled for March 28.

“We didn’t set out to do anything,” his father David Grimm, a trades supervisor at a local shipyard told the Washington Post. “Only thing we’ve done is try to protect our child. And that is what it means, and that takes whatever form it takes.”

And now a group of mostly tech companies are attempting to make the case that the issue extends far beyond the halls of a local high school. “The correlation between having LGBT-friendly policies and financial success is significant. Undermining those policies through discriminatory school policies is bad for business,” says the brief. They say a wrong decision will also harm their employees with transgender children and employees who are themselves are transgender.[C]oncerned about the stigmatizing and degrading effects” of the policy adopted by the school board, they say that “gender identity discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.”

In a season marked by open letters, the brief is a particularly bold move. “Companies will be judged by their words, deeds, and actions,” says Chris Allieri, founder of marketing and communications firm Mulberry & Astor. He’s also a board member for The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis services to LGBTQ youth. He’s seen first hand what allyship can mean. “Good corporate leaders are listening to their customers and their employees and being asked to do the right thing. This isn’t about some left-leaning CEOs tweeting on the coasts, but big marquee American brands standing up for what’s right.”

On Point

Learn from the best companies to work for over cocktails with me……And Alan Murray, our content chief, and the rest of the Fortune gang. On March 9th, we’ll be unveiling our 20th anniversary edition of our 100 Best Companies to Work For list, one of Fortune‘s most popular franchises, read by millions of people throughout the year. RaceAhead readers in New York are invited to join us at our offices to hear from top executives of three of the companies on the list—Accenture, Kimpton Hotels, and Edward Jones—on how to build great, inclusive, workplaces. You can RSVP below.  Fortune Events

Snap should release its diversity numbers
Snap’s S-1 filing had a throwaway line about diversity that certainly got the attention of the raceAhead crowd: “We believe that diversity is more than about numbers.” Sure, “creating a culture where everyone comes to work knowing that they have a seat at the table and will always be supported both personally and professionally,” sounds swell, but it’s all just empty talk without the actual data. “If Snapchat focuses only on culture, ignoring the fact that their company doesn’t reflect the majority of their content creators, they will be the next Twitter,” says Stephanie Lampkin, CEO of blind recruiting software firm Blendoor. Freada Kapor Klein calls nonsense. “A startup would never say that their goal is profitability but they don’t track their revenues.”
Fast Company

A hundred years of U.S. citizenship hasn’t gotten Puerto Rico very far
Yesterday was the one hundredth anniversary of the day that a million Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship, a gift that turned out to have an ugly twist: It was part of a ploy by President Woodrow Wilson to find 20,000 more people to fight in the First World War. Thus begins the troubling relationship the island has had with the U.S. The tale of the tape is grim: U.S federal agencies control every aspect of governance on the island, and have made life nearly impossible for citizens. Writer Nelson Denis goes into detail: “Puerto Rico has been little more than a profit center for the United States: first as a naval coaling station, then as a sugar empire, a cheap labor supply, a tax haven, a captive market, and now as a municipal bond debtor and target for privatization.” A must read.
The Nation

A DREAMer rebutted Trump’s speech in Spanish
While the president emphasized the dangers associated with immigration in his speech, Astrid Silva, a 28-year-old immigration activist, sought to create a different rallying cry in her response. “[T]hose of us who understand the risks for women, for the LGBT community; for the environment, for workers, for immigrants, for youth, and for refugees come together to protect our communities from deportations, from violence and discrimination,” she said. Silva, who came the U.S. at age four, said that immigrants are statistically less likely to commit violent crimes. “But I think he knows that the people he’s talking to – who this was meant for – they’re not going to be the ones who go google the statistic on this,” she says.
Rolling Stone

Representative Mike Bost said something odd about “Orientals” yesterday
It was already a tough news day for Bost, the republican representative from Illinois’s 12th district. After failing to schedule an in-person town hall meeting last week on the ACA repeal, angry constituents began a “Where Is Mike Bost?” campaign, complete with local protests and many letters to many editors. Bost defended himself to the editorial board of The Southern, a local paper, thusly: “The in-person ones going on around the United States right now are out of control, which means you don’t actually get to talk to people and listen, and we’re looking for ways to do that.” If only he’d stopped there. “You know the cleansing that the Orientals used to do where you’d put one person out in front and 900 people yell at them? That’s not what we need. We need to have meetings with people that are productive.”
The Southern

Ta-Nehisi Coates on creating black super heroes today
These are glorious times for comic book and graphic novel fans, an embarrassment of riches validated by wonderful new entrants into the genre. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a heavyweight’s heavyweight, a prolific writer, a MacArthur “genius” grant recipient and a National Book Award winner. So when he took on writing the new Black Panther series, it meant something. In this Q&A, he talks about the outsized success of the series and the writing itself. “I’m in the zone of writing, and that place is still really, really hard and really, really challenging,” he says, giving us all hope.
New York Times

The Woke Leader

The history of black women doctors in comic books
Darnel Degand has written an excellent essay exploring the long history of discrimination black women have faced when they’ve pursued careers in medicine, and the media’s role in perpetuating specific stereotypes – or ignoring them entirely. Even W.E.B. Du Bois tackled the subject in a 1933 article, “Can a Colored Woman be a Physician?” (Tl;dr: Yes.) “The inability to see black women as doctors extends into the world of comic book superheroes,” he writes, with one notable exception: Dr. Cecilia Reyes, who appeared in Marvel’s X-Men in 1997. Degand is clearly a comic book fan and X-Men readers will geek out at his analysis of her plot line. Everyone else will understand how much of an outlier she was. As her narrative grew, she became bolder – even changing her bobbed hair to long locs – and was not there for any discrimination. “To the contrary, she was portrayed as a confident doctor who was in command of her operating room.”

Mission accomplished: Twenty-eight black design professionals
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28 Blacks

Lisa Lucas will save all the books
Lisa Lucas is a force of nature, and at 37, the youngest person ever to helm the National Book Foundation. Her primary job is keeping the venerable institution running. “We don’t have a $10 billion endowment that enables us to have fancy parties and give away free books. We have to raise [our budget] every year,” she says. But her great love is books and the people who read and write them. She is putting her extraordinary imagination to work to making reading fun again, supporting libraries and diversifying the National Book Awards. If you don’t follow her on Twitter, you’re really missing out. Click through for a terrific interview.


I had been, the night before, absolutely catatonic with grief, because I knew that I was going to wake up the next day and I was going to be the birthday girl. And I thought I just wanted that part of my life to be over. I didn’t think I would be able to make it through another one of those birthdays, and actually, I don’t think I would have.
—Gavin Grimm