Sixty-five companies, including major tech leaders and blue-chip giants, have signed an open letter calling on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to abandon efforts to target transgender children and their parents.
“Discrimination is bad for business” read the headline on the letter, which was published as a full-page advertisement in The Dallas Morning News on Friday.
The letter, sponsored by the LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, was signed by Apple, Google, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Dow and MassMutual. At least four North Texas companies attached their names as well: Bottle Rocket, Match Group, Gearbox Entertainment and Neiman Marcus Group.
“We are publicly taking this stand because we feel that medical decisions are between parents, children and their health care providers,” said Rajesh Midha, CEO of Bottle Rocket, a local technology firm best known for creating mobile apps and websites for dozens of well-known brands.
Last month, Abbott directed state agencies to investigate reports of transgender adolescents receiving gender-affirming medical care as “child abuse.” That followed Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issuing an opinion stating his office believes certain gender-affirming health care for trans youth – including treatments like hormone therapy and puberty blockers – is a form of child abuse.
The opinion contradicts the advice of the largest and most established state and national medical groups, The News reported previously.
All child abuse investigations into gender-affirming care for trans minors were temporarily halted by a Texas judge late Friday afternoon, after a daylong hearing that pitted the mother of a transgender teenager against the state’s lawyers. The state can appeal the injunction.
The Human Rights Campaign’s letter called out the “recent attempt to criminalize a parent for helping their transgender child access medically necessary, age-appropriate health care in the state.”
“This policy creates fear for employees and their families, especially those with transgender children,” the letter said.
Is Midha worried about a backlash from elected officials? Abbott and Paxton were cited by name in prepared statement accompanying the HRC’s open letter.
“We are thinking less about the attorney general and governor – and more about our values, which are all around inclusion, diversity and freedom of choice,” Midha said. “We need to stand for our values, and that’s front and center for us.”
Neiman Marcus’ signed the HRC letter so as to inspire “others to action through your example.”
“We must come together as business leaders to voice our support of creating inclusive environments and communities,” said Eric Severson, Neiman Marcus chief people and belonging officer.
Last year, American Airlines publicly opposed bills to restrict voting in Texas, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick lashed out at the carrier: “Texans are fed up with corporations that don’t share our values trying to dictate public policy,” Patrick said at the time.
Yet that didn’t stop companies from signing on to Friday’s letter – or to a letter last month from Texas Competes, a coalition fighting against LGBTQ discrimination. The Texas Competes letter warned of a resurgence of efforts to exclude transgender youth and “criminalize or ban best-practice medical care that is proven to save lives.”
“It’s rare to see companies so directly taking on a sitting governor with actions like this,” said Jay Brown, HRC senior vice president for programs, research and training. “This was an effort to make sure that the business community’s voice was really heard in this fight.”
More Dallas-Fort Worth companies signed the Texas Competes letter in February, including American Airlines, McKesson and Southwest Airlines.
Soon after, American sent an update to employees: “For decades, American Airlines has proudly and unequivocally stood with our LGBTQ team members, customers and their allies,” the message said.
It added: “Transgender youth are some of the most vulnerable members of our society and deserve compassion and full anti-discrimination protections under the law.”
Companies are also working internally to check on any employees who could be affected by the directive, said Jessica Shortall, managing director of Texas Competes.
“A lot of companies we’re talking to have focused the majority of their first wave of energy on reaching out to their workforce, trying to understand who might be impacted, if people want to share that, and seeing how they can support them,” she said.
Separately, Texas’ only specialty program for the treatment of transgender adolescents closed after executives at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center said the program was facing political pressure in a November conference call, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Genecis, created by UT Southwestern and Children’s Health to provide transgender and gender-diverse youth with health care, closed to new patients a week after the conference call reportedly took place.
The public showing by corporations is reminiscent of the campaign against Texas’ so-called bathroom bills in 2017. At the time, many in the Legislature wanted to prohibit transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice. Hundreds of companies protested the proposals, insisting they would punish vulnerable residents and harm economic prospects for the state.
Many of the region’s most powerful employers objected to the bathroom bill, including AT&T, Texas Instruments and Atmos Energy. Chief executive officers from 14 companies signed on to the protests.
But the recent Texas directive is creating even more waves among Texas employees than the bathroom bill did, Shortall said.
“The employers that I’ve talked to by and large are telling me that they have never seen this amount or level of outreach and outrage from their workforce, not even during the bathroom fight,” she said. “So, the business case is very real.”
And the fight is just beginning, HRC’s Brown said.
“There are a lot of companies who couldn’t meet our deadlines on this ad who are now asking, ‘Can we get on it?’ So finding ways to engage companies and additional efforts like this is top of our list,” he said. “This is an important chapter in a longer book.”
Bottle Rocket’s Midha said Texas has the opportunity to be the economic leader driving growth and industry in the nation. But anti-LGBTQ policies could undermine that, in part by making it harder to recruit and retain talent.
“We are putting Texas’ future at risk by not being more inclusive and giving people freedom of choice on their health care decisions,” Midha said.
Corporate leaders want a growing state, he added. It’s good for customers, recruitment and business prospects, and Friday’s letter against discrimination also drove home that point.
“Businesses are standing up for the future,” Midha said.