Businesses put Georgia’s anti-gay bill on blast

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The business leader who helped force Indiana lawmakers to soften an anti-gay law there has turned his sights on Georgia, where he joins a growing chorus of opposition to a “religious freedom” bill.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff took aim at the hybrid House Bill 757 twice this week, urging Georgia lawmakers to pull the measure's anti-gay provisions. He joins a growing national backlash over the legislation that would allow faith-based organization to discriminate against LGBT people. 

Benioff's comments come as a co-owner of the Atlanta Hawks, the publisher of the Atlanta Business Chronicle and the president of the Georgia NAACP all expressed concerns about the legislation.

Benioff told CNBC on Wednesday that he was “very worried” about the bill. Via the AJC:

The red flag was raised when Benioff was asked about Apple chief executive Tim Cook’s fight with the FBI over encryption software. Here’s what he said:

“I think that what Tim Cook should be doing is getting down right now to the state of Georgia and going down and talking to those leaders and talking about House Bill 757 because we’re very worried about what’s happening to our employees down there with more discrimination, like what we fought back in Indiana last year just reared its head in HB 757. And that’s what I think Tim Cook should be focused on right now.”

He elaborated during a conference call with analysts. Via the Atlanta Business Chronicle:

“We're looking squarely at what's going on in Georgia with House Bill 757, which means that we may have to reduce our investments in the state of Georgia based on what we're seeing with the state government there…,” Benioff said in a conference call with analysts. “And I hope that they see the light the way that the state of Indiana did.”

The San Francisco-based company has several hundred employees in Atlanta, according to the ABC.

Last year the software company expanded its “regional hub” in Buckhead — adding about 300 jobs — following its acquisition of ExactTarget for $2.5 billion. In late 2013, ExactTarget acquired Pardot, an Atlanta marketing automation startup for $95 million.

State Sen. Josh McKoon, who keeps talking about “religious freedom” despite his own bill getting sidelined, dismissed Benioff's comments as “political antics.”

“Salesforce does business in Singapore and India. What is important to note about the laws of India and Singapore is that they make homosexuality a crime punishable by imprisonment,” McKoon said from the Senate floor on Friday.

“While this gentleman seems to think there's a problem with providing modest protections for the religious liberty of 10 million Georgians, he has absolutely no problem doing business and making money in countries where being homosexual is a crime,” McKoon added.

Besides Salesforce, the Atlanta Hawks also weighed in. Grant Hill, a seven-time NBA All Star and co-owner of the team, joined the advisory board of Georgia Prospers and on Thursday called for the state to support “diversity and inclusion.”

“It is so important to keep alive the values of good sportsmanship, fairness and inclusion that were engrained in me as an athlete,” said Grant Hill, a seven-time NBA All Star. “That’s why I believe in the good work of Georgia Prospers. It is critical, now more than ever, that our state supports diversity and inclusion in the workplace.”

Georgia Prospers, directed by former Republican state lawmaker Ronnie Chance, is an initiative among business and education leaders launched to combat “religious freedom” bills. More than 350 businesses, schools and enterprises have signed the organization's pledge, which says they will welcome “all people, no matter one's race, sex, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The president of the Georgia NAACP, Rev. Francys Johnson, also spoke out against the “religious freedom” legislation in a column for Neighbor Newspapers, calling it nothing more than an attack on LGBT people.

Let’s be honest: a lot of these bad bills we’re seeing are aimed at hurting those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Our LGBT friends and neighbors have seen their civil rights finally take some important leaps forward in recent years, and many aren’t happy about that. So they seek to use the cloak of religion as a method of holding back those civil rights.

But these types of bills threaten all of us. These types of bills could be used to harm single mothers, religious minorities and the most vulnerable in our communities. They may be crafted with an eye toward hurting LGBT people, but they stand to hurt us all.

David Rubinger, publisher of the Atlanta Business Chronicle, chided state lawmakers over House Bill 757 and said that the pioneers who helped build Atlanta would be “appalled” at the legislation.

Imagine how those leaders would react to what is happening during this session of the Georgia General Assembly. They would be appalled that House Bill 757, or “First Amendment Defense Act,” has taken center stage. It threatens to undo so much of the progress our region has made. Our past leaders fought through discrimination efforts to make Atlanta great. This time, instead of race, we are facing another form of discrimination against same-sex marriage.

Most Atlanta business and civic leaders believe that this bill should never have gotten to this point. We have come too far to allow this legislation to garner the attention that it has. Now the business community is rallying to speak as one voice, protecting Atlanta from the potential public relations damage this legislation could have on future business growth, convention business, and sporting events like the Super Bowl

It’s not my place, or the Chronicle’s place for that matter, to judge how people feel about same-sex marriage. Everyone is entitled to their own feelings based on their beliefs.

But I do care about our city and the ability for our business community to thrive, and when business thrives, so do our communities.

Photo by Steve Jennings via TechCrunch


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