Top executives from four of the largest food companies came together to condemn the growing number of anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration in U.S. state legislatures, including those that target transgender people and particularly children.
In an open letter published Wednesday in USA Today, the business leaders denounced the bills as dangerous and called on corporations to take action. The signatories were Chris Adamo, vice president of federal and industry affairs in North America at Danone SA; Brad Figel, vice president of public affairs in North America at Mars Inc.; Molly Fogarty, senior vice president of U.S. corporate and government affairs at Nestlé SA; and Tom Langan, North America director of sustainable business and external affairs at Unilever.
“This issue is not political,” they wrote. “Providing the same basic protections to LGBTQ+ people as are provided to protected groups under federal law is the right thing to do for businesses and for society.”
Lawmakers in almost 30 states have proposed nearly 100 anti-trans bills that would restrict the freedoms of LGBTQ residents, according to Freedom for All Americans, an LGBTQ advocacy group that tracks the proposals.
In Kentucky, a proposed law would allow health-care providers to turn away LGBTQ patients and would bar trans youth from K-12 public school and university sports.
In Alabama, lawmakers are promoting a bill that would ban physicians from prescribing medication to trans children that would affirm their gender.
A similar measure survived a veto in Arkansas this week. And so far, Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota and Tennessee also have all passed laws that restrict trans athletes from participating in sports.
This type of legislation undermines companies’ ability to recruit workers and retain existing talent in those states, the executives said. They cited studies that found the measures could have deep economic ramifications, including a loss of as much as $8.5 billion in gross domestic product in Texas. Beyond the workplace and the economy, they said, are the effects on communities.
“What we hear from business leaders across the country is that they put in a lot of effort to ensure their workplaces are welcoming to everyone, and are places where people of all walks of life can be themselves and treat others and be treated with dignity,” Jessica Shortall, director of corporate engagement at Freedom for All Americans, said via email. “But those team members don’t live at work — they have spouses and children, and they live in their communities, and employers want them to feel safe and welcome in those places, too.”
The executives said they would use their influence to advocate for policies that promote full equality at both the federal and state levels, including the passage of the Equality Act in the Senate, and urged the rest of the business community across the U.S. to do the same. “We must move beyond only public statements of support for LGBTQ+ issues,” they wrote.
Sarah Kate Ellis, chief executive officer of the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, said via email that she agreed corporations need to take more of a stand.
“It isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s putting existing diversity and inclusion policies into action,” Ellis said. “Brands that are planning marketing campaigns during Pride month cannot stay silent on legislative attacks on our community the rest of the year.”