Arizona tech firms fight anti-gay bill and a future in a pariah state

Tech industry has been a leader in LGBT workplace equality

Arizona's tech industry is united in fighting a state bill that allows a business to deny service to gay customers for religious reasons.

Critics say the measure legalizes discrimination against gays, something that is anathema to the technology industry. Tech employers such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and IBM, were among corporate leaders nationally to adopti non-discriminatory rules, equality measures and same-sex benefits.

Consequently, if Arizona implements the proposed law, known as SB 1062, it may deliver some real business hurt to the state. It could make recruiting more difficult and deter investment if Arizona earns a national reputation as an outlier on equality.

The state is being warned. On Twitter Wednesday, Marc Benioff, the chairman and CEO of Salesforce, made his displeasure with Arizona's action crystal clear: "If this bill passes we will never do another corporate event in Arizona." Apple, which is opening a new manufacturing plant in Arizona, has also asked Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the measure, which was approved by the state legislature.

The Arizona Technology Council, which represents a broad swath of the state's tech industry, urged Brewer to veto it. The council sent a letter and posted a message on its homepage urging this action.

Steven Zylstra, the council's president and CEO, said "the technology industry here as well as Arizonans in general are embarrassed and outraged" by the bill.

"None of us feel that the tenets embodied in SB1062 reflect the view of the preponderance of Arizona's citizens," Zylstra said. "We are much more open, warm and welcoming than most outside the state might imagine."

Zylstra said Brewer has been "a great friend" to business and he expects the governor to veto the bill.

If the bill becomes law, Zylstra said it will be a "substantial blow" to the state's tech industry. "It would certainly be harder to attract talent and capital," Zylstra said, and it would be "more challenging to attract companies to move here.

"Just as the economy and innovation ecosystem in Arizona are beginning to soar, it would have a stifling impact," he said.

Overall, Arizona employs 110,700 people in the tech industry, ranking it 18th nationally in tech employment, according to the most recent TechAmerica's Foundation Cyberstates report, released last year.

The importance of corporations in fostering equality was noted in a 1999 annual report by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an advocacy group. "Some of the biggest strides in making equality a fact of American life are being made in corporate and business America," the group wrote.

On the equality issue, the tech industry "has absolutely been on the forefront," said Joe Solmonese, a former HRC president, who is managing director of the corporate recovery firm Gavin/Solmonese.

The way the movement to equality began, and "to try to make life better for gay people," said Solmonese, was to approach institutions and businesses and ask them if they "would voluntarily implement a non-discrimination policy" at their companies.

Solmonese said the decision by tech companies to implement these policies was grounded in a business case, but he also believes they were acting because they believed it was the right thing.

Equality policies were "what would help them recruit and retain the best and most diverse workforce that they could possibly get," Solmonese said.

Deena Fidas, who leads the HRC's Workplace Project, said "the tech industry was one of the first to rise to the occasion, if you will, and not only supports LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) equality, broadly, but actually made the business case as to why this was an essential component to their overall business success."

Competition is keen for highly skilled workers, and "anything you can do to eliminate barriers to a prospective employee certainly appeals to these companies," Fidas said.

The HRC issues an annual report, its Corporate Equality Index on workplace equality. To get to a 100% rating, companies need to meet a list of requirements, which include prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation; offering partner health benefits; and providing transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage, among others. All the major tech companies have 100% ratings. The list can be found on the HRC's website.

This article, Arizona tech firms fight anti-gay bill , was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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This story, "Arizona tech firms fight anti-gay bill and a future in a pariah state" was originally published by Computerworld .

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