- Important reasons to involve your business in the fight against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation go beyond moral and ethical considerations. It’s also good for your corporate social responsibility strategy, recruiting prospects and local economy.
- Involving LGBTQ+ people in your fight against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is an important first step, as is matching your external actions with strong internal policies. Meaningfully representing LGBTQ+ people in your content, using your money carefully and sharing your opinion are additional important steps.
- Potential forms of more direct action include forming business coalitions to fight anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and directly lobbying legislators.
- This article is for business owners interested in leveraging their companies and network in the fight against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
If you’ve paid attention to the news in recent years, you’ve likely noticed an ongoing anti-LGBTQ+ legislative crusade. This attempt by state legislatures to roll back the LGBTQ+ human rights obtained over decades of activism seems set to accelerate for the foreseeable future. Its effects are stark: In some states, nonbinary and transgender people can no longer legally access the medication they need.
Your business can get involved in the fight against this legislation, both inside and outside of your state. If you do take action, you’ll need to put your money where your mouth is — and show that you have. Below, learn why and how your business can partake in the fight against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
Why should businesses fight against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation?
Below are just a handful of the reasons businesses should speak out and act against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
1. It’s a moral imperative.
Let’s start with the obvious reason: Supporting human rights is the morally correct thing to do. This is less of an opinion than a generally agreed-upon consensus. The U.N.’s Human Rights Council declared LGBTQ+ rights to be human rights in 2011.
Anna Dewar Gully, co-founder and co-CEO of Tidal Equality, said that businesses have a responsibility to shape society in ways that preserve human rights.
“Do you want to live in a free society or an oppressive one? That’s the question responsible companies should be asking themselves as they contemplate how, and even if, to respond publicly to the rapid rise of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation,” Dewar Gully said.
“If you believe the recent polls that say the vast majority of people in our society want that too,” she added, “then now is the time for your company to use its platform and your organization’s voice on LGBTQ+ issues, with [the] moral courage it takes when so much is at stake and when it really counts.”
2. It’s part of corporate social responsibility.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is increasingly a priority among consumers. To address this concern, your business will need to do more than just say that it supports certain social causes. You’ll also need to put action behind your words to show that your CSR messaging is genuine and sincere.
According to DISQO’s 2022 LGBTQ+ ad study, 85 percent of consumers consider a company’s social and political activities when making purchasing decisions. The study also found that at least 50 percent of consumers have chosen not to buy from brands whose social and political views differ from theirs. Similarly, 50 percent of Gen Z and millennial shoppers have taken extra steps to buy a product from a brand whose views they share.
These numbers show that fighting against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation can be as good for your business as it is for society. When you take steps to ensure the LGBTQ+ community’s rights remain intact, you show consumers that they’re buying from a brand that cares about equity. This can drive customer trust and brand loyalty — not to mention employee morale and retention — while proving that you’re running a socially responsible business.
“We’re no longer in a place in the global economy where companies are dictating to people what they need and what they want,” said Dëv Ramsumair, founder and CEO at Omni-media. “The people are more powerful than they know. They actually dictate to the corporations what the next trend is, and corporations jump on it.”
3. The LGBTQ+ community has substantial buying power.
In March 2022, the Pride Co-Op reported that the LGBTQ+ community’s buying power had reached $1.4 trillion. This report also found that the LGBTQ+ community is the fastest-growing marginalized group in the U.S. Similarly, DISQO’s LGBTQ+ ad study found that LGBTQ+ buyers have a sizable impact on the economy.
“The LGBTQ+ community’s cultural and economic influence is underestimated,” said Kate Wolff, Do the WeRQ Co-Chair, Programming and Operations, in a press release accompanying the aforementioned DISQO study. “Our findings show it’s increasingly important to be fully authentic, from marketing to workplace to political engagements.”
“Gen Z is a little more than 20 percent LGBTQ+ self-identified,” said Gearah Goldstein, founder of The GenderCool Project. “That’s 20 percent not only of your workforce but your future customer base as well, if not your current customer base. I don’t know any company that’s willing to give up 20 percent of their customer base by simply ignoring who they are.”
4. Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation can harm recruiting.
In April 2022, Marketplace reported on a Texas-based tech consultant who told local recruiters she was leaving the state. This consultant, who is the parent of a transgender child, left the state due to its 2022 initiative to investigate parents whose children received gender-affirming healthcare. This consultant explicitly told recruiters to inform hiring managers she was leaving the state specifically because of this law.
The message couldn’t be clearer: Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation can harm businesses’ recruiting efforts. Small businesses, given their economic importance and influence, can leverage this fact to persuade state legislatures not to pass anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Goldstein noted that the effects of recruiting difficulties can pop up both internally and externally.
“If state taxes and revenues go down because companies and states can’t recruit the best talent, then their tax rates go down,” said Goldstein. “Their income goes down, and it has a much bigger effect [across the state] than the social argument that politicians might bring forward in pushing against LGBTQ+ inclusion.”
5. Small businesses are well-suited to make change.
It bears repeating: Small businesses hold enough leverage in social and economic matters to shape the future. Ramsumair spoke about this from his experience founding and running the Global Change Initiative, through which several businesses collaborated with the United Nations on its 2017 sustainable development goals. Based on his experience, he believes small businesses have the power to propel change.
“Things can move quicker when you work with corporations that are in control of their own dollars and don’t report to anybody,” Ramsumair said. “Medium and small corporations can make that impact because they’re agile. The CEO is also working in the company and can make a difference right away. If something inspires the CEO, boom, they can change, whereas with a large corporation, it has to go through various different barriers of approval.”
Standing up against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation can further your corporate social responsibility goals, improve your customer relationships, boost employee recruiting and retention efforts, and enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in your company.
How businesses can fight against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation
We’ve covered why your business might want to fight against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, but knowing how to do it can be tricker. Below are some ideas that experts have seen work — and some that might be more novel.
1. Involve LGBTQ+ team members.
You can’t meaningfully fight against something harmful without including the people it would harm. This is why your fight against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation should involve LGBTQ+ people — namely, your LGBTQ+ team members. Their opinions and ideas should form the basis of your strategy.
Dewar Gully urged small businesses to prioritize the wants and needs of their LGBTQ+ stakeholders over all other stakeholders as they join the fight.
“Many companies are asking themselves the wrong questions,” said Dewar Gully, “like, ‘how can we best walk a fine line between our LGBTQ+ stakeholders (our employees, customers, funders who seek the freedom to be themselves, and their allies) and our anti-LGBTQ+ stakeholders (employees, customers and funders who seek the freedom to oppress others)?’ As if these two populations hold equally valid objectives and points of view, and as if these audiences are of an equal scale, which, by the way, they are not.”
2. Create or strengthen internal pro-LGBTQ+ policies, and leverage them externally.
Couple your fight against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation outside the workplace with newly strengthened internal protections for LGBTQ+ employees. This means more than just supporting employees who come out as LGBTQ+. It also means establishing wide-ranging policies against discrimination based on sexuality or other identity markers as part of your employee handbook. These policies should cover everything from what your employees say and write to how your company administers employee benefits.
You can also leverage these internal policies externally if you go about it the right way.
“Your employee handbook can establish protections for your employees and, if you speak publicly about your policies, create ripple effects in your business community,” said Caitlin Copple Masingill, owner of Full Swing Public Relations and the first openly queer person elected to the city council of Missoula, Montana. “Some legislators may not even know about the inequities that exist until you bring it to their attention. You can find models of company policies at the [Human Rights Campaign’s] Corporate Equality Index.”
Susie Silver, senior consultant and innovation strategist at The Diversity Movement, has also seen her clients’ internal policies shape their external efforts.
“A lot of the work we do with internal teams,” said Silver, “[helps our clients] with their external efforts … If the organization is not doing the internal continual hard work, the external things they choose to focus on … don’t always work and will sometimes create a regression. If we’re not taking care of our people internally, if we’re not really looking at what we need to improve, what we need to learn … we can’t show up externally.”
3. Watch where your money goes.
You’ve probably read news stories about corporations sponsoring Pride events while, in the background, donating to anti-LGBTQ+ organizations. Or maybe you’ve heard about businesses that claim to support LGBTQ+ rights but don’t act on it. This is exactly the opposite of what your company should do.
“[Some] companies have capitalized on the power of the LGBTQ+ market with their products, messages, merchandise, marketing, etc., in order to win customers and relevance, perhaps as recently as last Pride month,” Dewar Gully said. She added that, if your business doesn’t put its money where its mouth is, “Your wise audience will see that too.”
If you feel the urge to donate money to politicians or nonprofits on your company’s behalf, confirm that they support LGBTQ+ rights. You can also donate directly to LGBTQ+ candidates or organizations to be confident you’re donating your money in meaningful ways.
Copple Masingill emphasized the importance of thorough research every step of the way.
“It’s important that you find out where candidates who are running in your area stand on issues of banning medically necessary care for trans+ youth or banning library books that educate young people in a comprehensive way about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression,” said Copple Masingill. “The Victory Fund is a great resource if you want to support openly queer candidates in your area.”
4. Think about representation in marketing.
When you meaningfully, accurately and fairly represent LGBTQ+ people (and other marginalized groups) in your content, you do more than build trust with consumers. You also build a world where marginalized groups become less marginalized. Plus, as increasingly more people see strong representations of LGBTQ+ people, they’ll be more compelled to join your fight against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. That only makes the fight more powerful and effective.
“It’s our belief that there is a clear opportunity for brands to improve LGBTQ+ representation,” said David Azulay, Omnicom Client Lead and Global Co-Chair, OPEN Pride — Omnicom’s LGBTQ+ ERG — in the DISQO ad study’s press release. “Visibility drives progress, and brands can be powerful allies for visibility.”
Consider LGBTQ+ representation in your company’s social media content, blog posts, ad campaigns, and all other external representations of your brand.
“Showing visuals, telling stories, highlighting, amplifying LGBTQ+ voices within [your] organization externally [via] marketing or communication, [without] performative tokenization,” Silver said, is a strong start for representation. “Really giving the voice, the agency, the empowerment to the community to then show up first internally and then externally,” she added, can be a meaningful step.
5. Review your partners.
Let’s say you’ve improved your internal policies and shared them externally, then evaluated your political and nonprofit donations and improved LGBTQ+ representation in your marketing content. You still have one step left regarding your operations: checking whether any of your business partners hold anti-LGBTQ+ views. This includes all your service providers, including your legal firm and the vendors involved in your distribution process.
Inquire with any anti-LGBTQ+ partners about their views and actions. Unless you hear back that you’ve totally misunderstood (and unless you really have misunderstood), you should terminate this business relationship. This sends the message that anti-LGBTQ+ views are unacceptable at any level. The more public and widespread this message becomes, the easier it may be to thwart anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
“I encourage all the companies I work with to look at something as simple as, where are they receiving their shipping supplies?” said Goldstein. “They’re surprised when they learn that maybe one of the shippers that they’re using has an agenda that doesn’t align with who they are as a company. [It’s about] looking out wider than just covering what it means to be LGBTQ+ inclusive.”
6. Share your opinion.
If major corporations can write opinion pieces railing against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, your business can do the same. Reach out to your state or city newspapers or magazines to see whether they’ll allow you to write an opinion piece. Explain who you are and why this issue matters to you, whether for economic or moral reasons (or, ideally, both). If you get the green light, you’ll also get a public avenue to share your viewpoints.
“Some organizations have been very vocal if something happens, if it’s in the news, or if it’s legislation,” said Silver.
There is, of course, the worry that you could alienate anti-LGBTQ+ stakeholders with your opinion. Dewar Gully said that prioritizing these stakeholders could negatively affect your customer loyalty, so sharing your opinion is still the right move.
“It goes without saying that if your organization takes a path of true moral courage and takes a public stand against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, you will inevitably evoke negative reactions from anti-LGBT stakeholders,” Dewar Gully said. “However, I would argue that attempting to walk that problematic line in between, or even just staying silent, will actually put your organization at a greater risk. Your audience is much wiser than you may think.”
7. Create a business coalition against LGBTQ+ legislation.
In Texas, where anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is rampant, several employers have banded together as Texas Competes, a coalition focused on inclusive business environments. You can form a similar coalition in your own state to fight against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, or you can pursue joining coalitions that are already active in your state.
Ramsumair said that his experience with the Global Change Initiative showed him that, when businesses band together, real change is possible.
“Small businesses,” Ramsumair said, “can create equitable platforms for employment, anti-discrimination [and] policies that support LGBTQ+ people.” He also noted that individual employees can effect this change.
“We’ve seen people say, ‘I want to … make a larger impact and a smaller income as opposed to just getting a raise and not making any difference,’” Ramsumair said. “The goal was to get the people to make different decisions, because once you do that, the corporations follow.” And when corporations get involved, the politicians they sponsor often follow suit.
8. Know the current legal landscape and lobby your legislators.
You can’t fight for a cause without knowing the current threats against it. This means that, as your business battles anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, you should know what laws currently exist and what’s being proposed.
For example, 27 states lack explicit legislation protecting LGBTQ+ people against discrimination in housing, public accommodations and employment. Additionally, 22 state legislatures put forward over 100 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in January 2023 alone. Knowing all this — as well as what your jurisdiction’s current and proposed laws do and don’t achieve — can help you take action more meaningfully.
“It seems elementary, but many well-intentioned employers are not aware of how little protection exists for their employees, especially in red states,” said Copple Masingill. “The Movement Advancement Project is a great resource to learn about LGBTQ rights in your state.”
Once you do know what’s at stake in your jurisdiction, consider directly lobbying your legislators for change. If you need an example to follow, look to Apple, which has been lobbying against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation for quite some time now.
The more loudly you knock on politicians’ doors, the more likely you are to actually get their ear. From there, you can exert the direct pressure needed to truly effect change.
Fighting against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation starts with including your LGBTQ+ employees. It continues with internal work that the public can see and external efforts such as writing opinion pieces, forming business coalitions and directly lobbying legislators.
Fighting against anti-LGBTQ+ might be scary, but it’s worth it
When you take up any cause, you could potentially alienate certain stakeholders. That could, of course, cause financial or PR troubles — but so could not showing your customers that you’ll fight alongside them on certain issues. The risk, experts say, is worth the reward.
“There’s financial risk, there could be personal risk, there could be media risk,” Silver said. “There’s all kinds of risk involved with truly showing up. While I do think it’s increasing … there’s more people on that journey than some of us may think … I do feel like there’s more opportunity for action to happen and people to show up.”
Notably, Silver remained cautiously optimistic: “I could be wrong, but I really hope that we’re gonna start seeing that externally more so in the next few years.”