Brands Asked Idaho Lawmakers to Value Diversity. They Didn’t Listen

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Tuesday marked the annual Transgender Day of Visibility, with LGBTQ advocates as well as several brands set to post celebratory messages of support to the trans community.

But as the unofficial holiday kicked off, news reports added a somber tone to the day. The night before, Idaho Gov. Brad Little had enacted two controversial laws: one banning transgender girls and women from participating in sports (House Bill 500), and another prohibiting trans people born in Idaho from changing the gender on their birth certificates (House Bill 509). The former made Idaho the first U.S. state to outright ban transgender participation in athletics.

Four Idaho-based companies had tried in vain to discourage the state legislature from passing the bills. In a March 2 letter to the state Senate’s State Affairs Committee, four brands with operations in Idaho—Chobani, Clif Bar, HP and Micron—urged lawmakers to vote against the bills.

“As businesses, we’re committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion, and we are very proud to call Idaho home,” they wrote. The letter went on to describe the state’s “strong and growing economy” and the “welcoming, big-hearted spirit of its people.”

“This is a well-earned reputation, and these bills targeting transgender Idahoans puts that reputation at risk and goes against creating a workforce that welcomes all,” said the letter. “Passage of these bills could hurt our ability to attract and retain top talent to Idaho, and it could damage Idaho’s ability to attract new businesses and create jobs.”

The companies asked senators to “support all of Idaho’s diverse communities and reject these measures.” Instead, state legislators voted to pass the laws—and Gov. Little enacted them on Monday.

At the time that the joint letter was sent, few realized the devastating impact the coronavirus pandemic would have on the U.S. economy at large. It’s obvious now that the crisis is likely to impact state economies at a level far beyond that of a discriminatory state law.

But the brands had reason for concern: When North Carolina passed an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” called HB2 in 2016, the state lost an estimated $3.76 billion the following year. (A lawsuit brought against the state was settled in 2019 to allow people using bathrooms in public buildings to choose the facility that conforms to their gender identity.)

Anti-LGBTQ laws tend to have a ripple effect from an economic standpoint. Companies concerned about their ability to attract and retain talent pull operations from the state. City and state governments ban travel to the state in order to pressure local leaders. Celebrities cancel appearances, musicians cancel tour dates, and even sports leagues pull major events. All of this happened to North Carolina after HB2; while Idaho’s losses would likely be considerably lower, the fear of economic backlash is hardly mere paranoia.

Even amid a pandemic that’s redirecting almost all resources, brands and influencers are still speaking out against the Idaho anti-trans laws. Soccer star and Nike brand ambassador Ali Krieger had urged the governor to veto the law, slamming Idaho for being “focused on attacking transgender youth” during a major international crisis.

In response to a request for further comment on Idaho banning transgender girls from athletics, a Nike spokesperson said the brand has “been a strong supporter of the LGBTQ community around the world, and we support all athletes, from everyday runners to elite competitors, trying to break down barriers to realize their potential.”

While HP declined to comment on the potential economic impact to Idaho, a spokesperson told Adweek that “HP is deeply committed to the principles of diversity, inclusion and acceptance, and we will continue to embrace these values across everything we do.”

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