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When the LGBTQ Equality Act was first introduced in 2015, three companies publicly supported it: Apple, The Dow Chemical Company and Levi Strauss & Co. Now as the bill — which would expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity — heads back to Capitol Hill, it has 161 corporate backers.
"More and more companies have come to realize just how important it is to have a nationwide standard that treats all employees equally, no matter where they live," said Stephen Peters, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization.
The HRC announced Friday that support has been growing over the years, and now 161 companies have joined the organization's Business Coalition for the Equality Act, a group of leading U.S. employers that support LGBTQ people in anti-discrimination laws. "The harsh reality is that right now LGBTQ people face a patchwork of protections based on what side of a city or state line they live on," Peters said.
The Equality Act has faced a tough legislative climb in its effort to extend anti-discriminatory protections for LGBTQ people across the U.S. A similar bill, introduced in 2015 by Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, died in committee, then suffered the same fate in a 2017 effort. The Equality Act is expected to be introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives within the coming week.
Nearly 50 percent of LGBTQ Americans currently reside in the 30 states that lack statewide legal protections for LGBTQ people, according to the HRC. The supporting companies — which now include Twitter, Amazon, Google and Facebook — have operations in all 50 states and total more than $3.7 trillion in revenue, according to HRC.
"The more than 160 leading American companies that have joined HRC's Business Coalition for the Equality Act are sending a loud and clear message that the time has come for full federal equality," said HRC President Chad Griffin.
On Thursday, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty wrote a letter addressed to Rep. Cicilline and Sen. Merkley detailing her support for the Equality Act on behalf of the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs from the leading companies in the U.S. In the letter, Rometty argued that most American companies already included sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies long ago, and now it is time for the federal government to do the same.
Although the bill has a chance in the Democratic-controlled House, it most likely will face scrutiny in the Republican-controlled Senate, said Jonathan Lovitz, senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). Lovitz said that recent rulings by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission covering sexual orientation discrimination based on existing civil rights regulations, as well as a similar ruling from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, stress the value of legal efforts supporting equal LGBTQ opportunities.
"Our economy simply does not achieve all it can unless everyone is included ... and the protections of the Equality Act bring us much closer to the inclusion we need for the American Dream to be accessible to every LGBT American," Lovitz said.
The Equality Act does not include provisions that would include LGBT-owned businesses in federal contracting opportunities, an effort that has been taken up by three states and recently introduced in cities like Nashville and Baltimore, Lovitz said. If passed, the act would cover employment, education, housing, public accommodations, jury service, federal funding and credit.
"A level playing field ensures that merit is the only factor that allows someone to succeed in business," said NGLCC Co-Founder & CEO Chance Mitchell. "Think of the endless opportunities to contribute to the economy that await the LGBT business community when they are no longer afraid of being fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, denied service in restaurants and shops simply for being who they are."