Commentary: Amazon not using its leverage to help LGTBQ cause

The retail giant was key to LGTBQ causes in Washington state, but it can do more in other states.

By Sarah Toce

In this current age of corporate activism, global retail giant Amazon has been on the front lines for equality in Washington state, leveraging the company’s wealth and influence to drive historic social change.

But the tech leader has been missing in action in other states where discrimination against the LGBTQ community persists. As Amazon seeks a second headquarters in the U.S., it’s critical that the $135 billion-dollar digital brand should be fighting for inclusivity and diversity outside of its own backyard.

In 2012, Amazon backed a coalition called Washington United for Marriage to help foster support for Referendum 74, which legalized same-sex marriage in this state. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife even dipped into their own pockets to ensure the referendum was successful, donating $2.5 million to the cause. Uniting with Google, Microsoft, AT&T, and others, Amazon helped successfully pass the initiative. Then, in 2016, Amazon gave more than $33,000 to Washington Won’t Discriminate to defeat a campaign threatening to eliminate protections against transgender discrimination.

Beyond its engagement on legislative issues, Amazon regularly sponsors Pride parades and hosts cross-corporate social events through its LGBTQ employee group called Glamazon. This commitment to social justice allowed Amazon to be perceived as the best brand among LGBTQ consumers in 2017.

Considering Amazon’s leadership in Washington state and within the business community at large, one might expect the tech giant to be a champion of LGBTQ rights wherever they are in jeopardy, especially as leading tech executives increasingly affirm their moral responsibility to society.

Most recently, Amazon delivered on this front when it co-signed with 37 major tech companies an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the gay couple suing a Colorado baker for refusing to make them a wedding cake because of his religious beliefs.

Sadly, Amazon has been missing in action in other high-profile fights that may have broader implications than the Colorado case. In the nine states currently considering hateful religious freedom bills that would legalize discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, Amazon has been on the sidelines.

In Georgia, for example, lawmakers are preparing to vote on a Religious Freedom Restoration Act bill this year, which would permit businesses to deny services and employment to LGBTQ people and allow faith-based organizations, such as churches and religious schools, to turn them away. The four leading candidates for Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial nomination pledged to sign such a bill should they assume office after this year’s election.

In 2016, Netflix and Disney threatened to move film production out of the state if a “religious freedom” bill passed. And Salesforce similarly warned that it would have reduced investment in Georgia.

But Amazon has left advocacy groups like Georgia Unites Against Discrimination to go it alone. Why not support them in the same way it stood with Washington United for Marriage and Washington Won’t Discriminate?

If the answer has to do with the generous economic incentives Georgia is offering as part of its efforts to win the HQ2 contest, then Bezos owes an explanation to those who will rightly question Amazon’s pledge to social responsibility as one of convenience, not principle.

Amazon is a company without a definitive home state — regardless of where its next major hub will plant roots. In an online world it has essentially helped to build, the Everything Store is quite literally everywhere. This is why it’s more imperative now than ever for Amazon to harness its resilient brand and illustrate support for social justice campaigns occurring beyond just the Emerald City.

After all, with great power comes an even greater responsibility — and we helped build them.

Sarah Toce is a publisher, journalist and community builder. Follow her oon Twitter @SarahToce or at www.sarahtoce.com.

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