Texas could lose big if it pursues policies that curtail the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents. That’s the message from a study commissioned by the Texas Association of Business, the state’s chamber of commerce. The study finds that the state potentially faces huge losses, and it comes as fights over LGBT rights are brewing in Austin ahead of the next legislative session.
Discrimination carries costs, said Texas Association of Business president Chris Wallace, and lawmakers should be aware of them. He said businesses struggle to recruit and keep their most talented employees in a place that’s perceived as being unfriendly to LGBT people. That’s especially true for millennials, Wallace said.
“They do not want to reside in a state, they do not want to reside in a city, nor work for a company, that is not accepting of all people. That’s why companies such as Apple, Intel, IBM and others are joining our coalition, because they are very, very concerned about the ability to recruit future talent,” he said.
Already, with high-profile politicians pledging to pursue anti-LGBT policies, the state’s reputation as a good place to do business is being harmed, Wallace said.
More than 1,100 companies in the state have already signed a pledge supporting LGBT rights, including Texas Instruments, Dell and American Airlines.
According to the Texas Association of Business study, which was done in conjunction with the St. Edwards University business school, as many as 185,000 jobs could hang in the balance. As for the total economic impact, the study shows a pretty wide range in potential hit to the state’s gross domestic product. Extrapolating from what happened in other states that passed laws curtailing LGBT rights, Wallace said Texas stands to lose anywhere from $964 million to $8.5 billion a year. Especially vulnerable, he says, are the tourism and entertainment industries.
“We are going to do our best to make sure that legislation like this does not get passed,” he said.
That cues up a potential fight between the Republican Party's business-focused side in the state legislature, and its social-issues wing. Some distance has already emerged between the leadership in the capitol’s two chambers.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the state Senate, has promised legislation that would block transgender people from using bathrooms that don’t match their sex at birth, arguing it would protect women. Exactly what Patrick’s bill might look like is still unclear as he hasn’t yet introduced it.
Patrick’s counterpart in the House, Speaker Joe Straus, said such legislation isn’t an urgent concern.
Texas Association of Business’ Wallace also pointed to legislation introduced by another Senate Republican as troubling. Sen. Bob Hall, who represents a district stretching from Dallas to points east, introduced a bill to bar cities and counties from protecting LGBT people from discrimination in housing, employment, government contracts or public accommodations. A dozen large cities in Texas already offer at least some protections, and they’d see those ordinances overturned if the legislation passed.
During the state’s GOP convention in Dallas in May, Patrick panned the idea that such legislation would hurt the Texas economy, calling it posturing.
“It’s just not real. It’s like the entertainer’s threat, ‘I’m not going to going to go and perform a concert in that city.’” he said. “Really? Fine, someone else will book the date. If the business doesn’t want to move there, another business will take your place.”
According to Wired magazine, half a year after North Carolina passed sweeping legislation eliminating LGBT protections, the state had lost out on nearly $400 million. Several businesses scrapped plans to set up or expand operations there, concerts were canceled, and high-profile sporting events like the 2017 NBA All-Star Game were moved out of state.