Facing outrage, corporations belatedly pull support for anti-gay law

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Companies that belong to the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and even the Chamber itself, are backing off from the Chamber's suppport for anti-gay legislation signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday.

UnitedHealth Group, the parent company of the United HealthCare health insurance company which is a member of the Tennessee Chamber, issued a statement that it emailed to this newspaper Monday, stating, "We did not lobby for nor support Tennessee SB632/HB600." The company said its health plans cover domestic partnerships, and points out that it has consistently received a score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, the highest score possible.

In fact, many of the companies belonging to the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce have received high scores on the HRC's Corporate Equality Index, which makes it puzzling as to how the Chamber (initially) went forward with support for such an anti-LGBT measure.

The UnitedHealth Group email came in response to our report yesterday about a coalition of business and religious groups in Tennessee coming together to support the bill, which removes lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender discrimination protections from Nashville, and prohibits any Tennessee municipality from taking up that issue. This legislation was a response to a Nashville ordinance, passed last month, that required any contractors that wished to do business with the city and county to comply with equal protection for sexual orientation and gender identity.

The bill was actively supported by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is chaired by Nissan. The Chamber claimed that the Nashville protections were an "additional burden" to business. The board of directors of the Tennessee Chamber includes: AT&T, FedEx, Comcast, DuPont, Pfizer, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Caterpillar, KPMG, Whirlpool, Embraer, Alcoa, and United HealthCare.

Not surprisingly, these companies have faced a wave of protest because of the Chamber's support of the bill. Opponents of the bill, led by AmericaBlog Gay, started a petition demanding that the companies come out against the measure.

On Monday, Garden State Equality, a New Jersey LGBT group, withdrew awards they had given to AT&T, KPMG, and Pfizer in the past.

In light of the growing outrage, many of the corporations in the Chamber issued statements regarding the legislation.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry itself issued the following statement on Monday: "The Tennessee Chamber supports a standard regulatory environment at the state level as opposed to potentially conflicting local regulations covering employment practices ... That principle was the only interest the Chamber had in this bill. Because [the bill] has turned into a debate on diversity and inclusiveness principles, which we support, we are now officially opposing this legislation in its present form."

However, the Chamber issued this statement 20 seconds before the governor signed the bill into law, rendering it basically pointless.

Americablog Gay tracked many of these corporations as they issued statements regarding the issue, and then rated the statements based on their usefulness.

Receiving a rating of "Helpful" were Alcoa and Nissan. Alcoa, an aluminum manufacturer, was the only company to issue a statement unequivocally supporting a veto of the bill. Nissan issued two statements condemning the measure, one over the weekend and one on Monday.

United HealthCare, Whirlpool,and DuPont all received "Barely Helpful" for the statements they issued. Whirlpool issued its statement hours before the governor signed the bill, stating that they will "inform" him of their position. Receiving a "Meh" were KPMG, AT&T, and FedEx for their responses. AT&T and FedEx issued responses that did not even take a stand on the bill. The Chamber, Embraer and Comcast all were scored as "Basically Useless" for issuing statements mere hours, or even seconds, before the bill was signed into law. Coming in dead last at "Totally Useless" was Caterpillar, which evidently could not be bothered for a statement.

It seems that these companies would like to project an image that they are simply members of the Chamber, as FedEx claimed. However, Nissan is the chair of the Chamber, and the corporations listed here are on its board of directors.

While many find it (almost) heartening to see these companies (belatedly) come out against such an anti-gay measure, their opposition only came after public outcry and embarrassment.

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  • If the intent was to make a uniform law across all of TN, as the backers of HB600 have claimed, then why not pass a state law protecting LGBT employees? Wouldn't that have the same outcome (a uniform law across TN)? Why legislate discrimination?

    While HB600 is targeted at the GLBT community, other groups WILL be affected too. Abby Rubenfield, a Nashville lawyer will be challenging this horrific law in court. She points out that while the bill was targeted at gays and lesbians, it would also impact other groups, including veterans, disabled persons, or any other group that does not fit within the state’s non-discrimination law.

    One attempt to discriminate against the LGBT community, while not stating it blatantly, will affect other groups. Not only that, the negative backlash will only serve to further enrage the LGBT community to action. Sodomy laws were once the favorite choice of discriminating against the LGBT community. Sodomy law challenges went to the Supreme Court and were eventually overturned.

    HB600, along with marriage equality, DADT, and Federal Tax Filing status will all eventually wind it's way to the supreme court and be overturned and equality will erode away discrimination. These issues only hep to tie up an already beleaguered and overburdened court system. They distract from real solutions needed to real problems. I'm more concerned about jobs, the economy, wars in the middle east, our national debt ceiling, Medicare, future generations, and using ALL of America's talent and resources to solve real problems.

    Discrimination only divides us as a country and makes us weaker and costs us more than we can afford in money, time, and lost talent. Think for just one moment of a possible scenario of this discrimination: perhaps the cure for heart disease, lung cancer, AIDS, or Alzheimer could have come from a gay scientist who was discriminated against in the workplace based on his/her sexual orientation and thus never having the chance to find a cure. Research on these diseases often comes from pharmaceutical companies and if they have the ability to legally discriminate, then this scenario can come true.

    After reading several articles regarding HB600, I turned to the internet to see who was part of the TN Chamber of Commerce, as well as companies headquartered in TN. Some choices I'll make / already made: Not to drive a Nissan (cancelled my reservation for a Nissan LEAF the day I read the article), not to use FedEx, not pick UnitedHealth when offered at open enrollment, and the list goes on. So, tell me how DOES HB600 HELP TN?

    Some of the TN Chamber of Commerce member companies half heartedly stood against HB600 / discrimination, but way too late. Businesses MUST learn that any form of discrimination is bad for business. To be silent or barely pay lip service is just as bad as supporting HB600. The TN Chamber of Commerce supported this bill COMPLETELY, until 20 seconds (literally) before the Governor signed it into law. They hoped that their last minute change would help their reputation and membership, but the damage is done and their reputation is tarnished.

    Swift action to overturn this form of discrimination can reverse some of the affects of the damage done in TN. However, I fear that the elected officials and those who voted for them won't move fast enough or loud enough. Maybe the businesses of TN will realize the damage HB600 will do to them and the reputation of TN and act quickly and reverse HB600 and send a powerful message that discrimination is not acceptable and that a small group of right wing politicians and business "leaders" will not hold the great volunteer state hostage and tarnish a welcoming reputation and business climate.

    Good luck to Abby Rubenfield, a Nashville attorney who will be taking HB600 to court.

    Posted by End Discrimination, 05/26/2011 1:01pm (4 years ago)

  • That's some good principles there. They come out against it once they realize that whatever supposed "burdens" anti-discrimination laws place on them are going to be offset by the bad publicity and potential boycotts by people who don't take kindly to Southern style bigotry. And as the article states, the supposed about-face is too little and way too late.

    Posted by Dave, 05/25/2011 6:10am (4 years ago)

  • Argh, these companies are so useless! Every bit of suffering or violence that gay kids endure in that state is on their hands -- and this atrocious event needs some drastic. fixing.

    Posted by X, 05/24/2011 9:39pm (4 years ago)

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