Living east of Seattle as I do, I don’t ordinarily hang out near the Amazon headquarters 17 miles away. Then I was recently deputized to do a freelance story on Amazon’s new cashless grocery store.
The story, which ran 11 days ago in the Washington Post, brought me face-to-face with lines of Amazon employees, the new downtown botanical garden space in huge glass orbs known as the “Amazon spheres” (see my photo with this article) and the company’s search for another city in which to expand.
Many Seattleites are kind of glad that Amazon may have a footprint elsewhere, as its well-paid employees have helped send housing prices soaring 53 percent here in the past four years. At first we all thought Amazon was just looking at cities with lots of available real estate, lots of skilled workers, good tax deals, etc.
But then USA Today came out with a list of supposedly homophobic cities that Amazon should avoid.
Who knew that Amazon’s second headquarters had to be in a blue state? USA Today tells us why:
SAN FRANCISCO — Gay-rights advocates plan a "No Gay? No Way!" campaign Thursday to pressure Amazon to avoid building its second headquarters in a state that does not protect its residents from discrimination for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Of the 20 cities on Amazon’s list of finalists, nine are in states with no anti-gay-discrimination laws, according to the campaign. They are Austin; Dallas; Nashville; Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; Miami; Raleigh, N.C.; and the Washington suburbs of Northern Virginia.
Let’s see now, what do Austin, Dallas, Nashville, Atlanta and Raleigh have in common?
These are Bible Belt cities. And Ohio, Indiana and Florida are, at this point, red states that went for Trump in the past election. I used to live in northern Virginia, which was red state in the 1990s, but which has gone purple in recent years. Virginia is the only blue state listed here.
But did USA Today make the God connection in this story? Not really.
Like many tech companies, Amazon has long been a supporter of gay rights and anti-discrimination legislation. It has had a robust gay and lesbian employee group, GLAmazon, since 2005. Before it was common, advertisements for the e-tailer featured gay couples. And CEO Jeff Bezos contributed heavily to the push for gay marriage in Washington state. The company was one of the more than 50 tech firms that last year signed a friend of the court brief in a case involving a transgender high school student in Virginia.
The campaign comes as some conservatives accuse tech companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook of a pro-liberal bias that censors their voices and ideas.
That’s the closest it gets. As tmatt wrote just the other day, there was bound to be a religion story involved in what cities would be picked.
But what about Pennsylvania, which also went red in 2016? Well, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have local anti-discrimination laws, the article says, but the state as a whole does not, rendering it “unclear” in the eyes of this group.
While Amazon’s request for proposals for its second headquarters does not mention the LGBTQ community, it does include a section saying that it requires “a compatible cultural and community environment” that includes “the presence and support of a diverse population.”
Richard Florida, the author of The Rise of the Creative Class who studies talent migration, says historically there has been a correlation between centers of innovation and high rates of economic growth, and a thriving gay and lesbian community.
“It’s a signal of a community that’s open to new thinking and new kinds of ideas. I don’t think Amazon can attract talent to a city that’s closed-minded," he said.
Considering that Texas, the quintessential red state, is expanding like crazy in terms of jobs and population, Florida’s thesis doesn’t hold much water.
Let’s use the mirror image idea that’s been cited elsewhere on this blog. What if a conservative group had put out a list of “godless” cities it didn’t think Amazon belongs in with the implicit threat of a national boycott should Amazon be so stupid to not get the hint? Or what if the National Rifle Association pulled a similar stunt? Can you imagine the outcry and accusations that would pour out? So, then, why is it OK for this group to hire a plane and do billboards?
If you don’t think this group wants to copy boycotts against various cities for their policies on transgender people as well, think again.
The activists say they want Amazon to use its economic power to assert its values of diversity, inclusion and tolerance. There's an edge of a threat to the campaign as well.
“We want companies to know that if you’re going to talk the talk when it comes to LGBT diversity, you need to walk the walk,” Gaughan said.
There you have it. And should Amazon be so foolish to choose one of these forbidden cities, you can bet the no-gay-no-way folks will be up in arms. Look for the religious, moral and cultural composition of said city to go under a microscope.
You heard it here, first.