Apple wields its lobbying might against LGBTQ laws

Apr 01, 22
Apple wields its lobbying might against LGBTQ laws

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The tech giant is lobbying, filing court briefs and recruiting allies from other big companies to oppose bills targeting gay and transgender people in states like Iowa, Texas and Florida.

 An Apple logo is reflected on glass at the Apple Store.

Ultimately, it’s not clear that business advocacy makes a difference in the first place.

Policies affecting transgender children went into effect in Texas, Florida, Arizona and Tennessee despite companies’ protestations, and nearly 240 bills aimed at limiting the rights of LGBTQ people have been filed in state legislatures this year alone. Meanwhile, Republicans have shown an increasing eagerness to rail against “woke” corporations’ involvement in issues such as social equality, climate change and immigration, weakening the leverage that big business has brought to past fights on debates such as same-sex marriage.

“The efficacy of making big public statements is lower than it used to be,” said Jessica Shortall, managing director of the gay rights business group Texas Competes. “But Apple does the work.” Apple has more than 6,000 employees in Texas.

The company’s advocacy comes as businesses across the country struggle to address legislation affecting LGBTQ people. Although corporations — and Silicon Valley in particular — have long argued that discriminatory legislation harms their employees and their bottom lines, the GOP has rallied around proposals to limit transgender rights and restrict care for trans youth, similar to the way that Republicans including former President George W. Bush once pushed to ban same-sex marriage. Companies that stand against legislation affecting the LGBTQ community, such as Disney in Florida, risk blowback from the populist right.

Apple generally has been quieter in public about the most recent legislation, compared with its lobbying in 2015 against “religious freedom” laws that would have allowed businesses to turn away LGBTQ customers and potential hires, according to two people familiar with its strategy who were granted anonymity to discuss private conversations. That earlier fight included a Washington Post op-ed by Cook.

That’s in part a strategic decision — some activists believe it is more effective for companies in the current environment to work privately with lawmakers rather than deploying public pressure.

Shortall, with Texas Competes, said she has seen more than 800 bills aimed at LGBTQ people emerge in state legislatures since she began her work in 2015, but most of them did not get a hearing or advance out of committee. “One big reason is because companies weigh in quietly behind the scenes,” she said. “That’s often the most effective way, and certainly the least traumatic way for LGBTQ+ people who are very traumatized by this huge flood of bills.”

Chávez, the Arizona state legislator, argued that it’s still important for corporations like Apple to use their economic leverage and public platforms to fight for the LGBTQ community. Corporate boycotts against North Carolina in 2017 cost the state $3.76 billion, prompting the state to repeal a law that had what bathrooms transgender people could use.

“I can almost guarantee you that if we gathered 1,000 people in one room, the majority of those individuals have iPhones in their pockets,” Chávez said. “Especially within the LGBTQ+ community, [corporations] need to face the fact that they need us. And that if they want us to continue to purchase their products and services, they also have to be there for those individuals who are there for them.”

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