IBM steps up fight to defeat Texas bathroom bill
by Alexa Ura, The Texas Tribune
AUSTIN – As state lawmakers return to Austin for legislative overtime, tech giant IBM is stepping up its fight to defeat legislation it says would discriminate against children and harm its Texas recruiting efforts.
In an internal memo sent Monday to thousands of employees around the world, IBM’s human resources chief outlined the New York-based company’s opposition to what the letter described as discriminatory proposals to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans. IBM sent the letter to employees the same day it dispatched nearly 20 top executives to the Lone Star State to lobby lawmakers at the state Capitol. A day earlier, it took out full-page ads in major Texas newspapers underlining its opposition to legislation that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and a cadre of far-right lawmakers have deemed a top priority.
“Why Texas? And why now? On July 18th, the Texas legislature will start a thirty-day special session, where it is likely some will try to advance a discriminatory ‘bathroom bill’ similar to the one that passed in North Carolina last year,” wrote Diane Gherson, IBM’s senior vice president for human resources. “It is our goal to convince Texas elected officials to abandon these efforts.”
State lawmakers are set to reconvene in Austin on Tuesday as part of a special session forced by Patrick after legislation he deemed as must-pass — including various proposals to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans — failed during the regular session that concluded in late May.
Despite a fervent push by social conservatives, religious groups and some Republicans, the controversial proposals fizzled out in the Texas House where House Speaker Joe Straus made clear he opposed the legislation.
But similar proposals that would nix trans-inclusive bathroom policies enacted in recent years by Texas cities and school boards have already been filed for consideration during the special session that will end in mid-August.
The fate of such policies could once again come down to Straus who has long rooted his opposition to them in economic concerns like those expressed by IBM. But more recently he has framed them as concerning because of the detrimental effect they could have on transgender children who he has acknowledged as especially vulnerable.
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Last week, IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty spoke with Straus directly over the phone about the issue.
IBM’s renewed efforts are part of a months-long campaign by the business community against Texas’ so-called bathroom bill. At the tail-end of the regular legislative session, the company was among several prominent corporations, including Apple and Facebook, that penned a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott expressing staunch opposition to legislation they described as discriminatory and bad for business.
Abbott has said a statewide rule “protecting the privacy of women and children” is necessary to avoid “a patch-work quilt of conflicting local regulations.”
“At a minimum, we need a law that protects the privacy of our children in our public schools,” the Republican said in June.
Large corporations waged a similar defensive campaign in North Carolina when that state passed its own controversial bathroom bill. Lawmakers there retooled the law earlier this year after it sparked cancellations of business expansions and high-profile sporting events.
The memo IBM sent to employees on Monday echoed concerns businesses voiced in their letter to Abbott earlier this year, saying the company — which has more than 10,000 employees in Texas — is focused on defeating the bathroom proposals because they’re detrimental to inclusive business practices and fly in the face of “deep-rooted” values against discrimination targeting LGBT people.
“A bathroom bill like the one in Texas sends a message that it is okay to discriminate against someone just for being who they are,” Gherson, the company’s HR chief, wrote.
IBM executives are expected to join several other business leaders on the steps of the Capitol Monday morning to protest the bathroom proposals.