This story reflects the views of this author, but not necessarily the editorial position of Fast Company.
In the first year of Trump’s tumultuous presidency, many businesses stood on the side of fairness and equality, just as threats to LGBTQ rights mounted. Last March, for example, business leaders pushed North Carolina to revise its discriminatory HB2 legislation, which barred transgender people from using restrooms in government buildings and schools, and limited cities’ and counties’ abilities to pass nondiscrimination ordinances.
The so-called “repeal” legislation that followed still fell woefully short (it bans cities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances until 2020), but the business community demonstrated its clout. In Texas later this year, business coalitions proved powerful forces to defeat similarly discriminatory legislation.
Despite these strides, LGBTQ rights remain under assault heading into 2018, particularly in the workplace. The Department of Justice has contradicted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in denying that federal nondiscrimination laws apply to LGBTQ people, and 30 states still lack the most basic protections in employment, housing, and public accommodations. So as they continue to weigh how (and whether) to wade into these issues in the years ahead, companies can take a few crucial steps toward protecting LGBTQ rights in 2018.
1. Push For Nondiscrimination Laws
A large majority (72%) of Americans support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, and nearly all of the Fortune 500 and 68% of small businesses do, too, because they know that diverse staff yield innovative results. And wherever states have attempted to allow employers to discriminate, the economic costs have been swift and steep–meaning companies have moral as well as business reasons to lobby for nondiscrimination laws.
Joining a business coalition like Florida Competes or Wisconsin Businesses for Equality to advocate for state and local nondiscrimination laws, meeting with elected officials, and supporting advocacy organizations, are all ways businesses can tip the scales for equality.
2. Declare That You’re Open To All
In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide a pivotal case hinging on whether businesses may discriminate against LGBTQ customers and employees on religious grounds. The decision has the potential to erode federal and state nondiscrimination laws, not to mention the broader precept that businesses serving the public need to serve everyone equally.
Hundreds of businesses–large and small–have already stood up to say that they are open to all, but more voices are needed, both in the run-up as the Court contemplates its ruling, and in the immediate aftermath next spring. A coalition of businesses has already filed a compelling amicus brief in the case, and many more are signing onto the Open to All coalition. We call on every business to add their names.
3. Fight Discriminatory “Bathroom Bills”
If the past year has been any indication, hostile state legislatures in 2018 continue to ignore big issues like education, immigration, and the economy, and focus instead on targeting transgender youth and adults by dictating who can use which restroom. Businesses know that when trans employees can focus at work, they can contribute to their teams.
In May 2017, 59 businesses signed on to an amicus brief in the court case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender student who was denied access to his school’s boys’ room. Today’s students like Grimm belong to tomorrow’s innovative workforce. When they can attend school safely, they gain the skills to contribute to our country’s economy. LGBTQ students who are bullied and harassed because of their gender expression are three times more likely to miss school than other students, and are at greater risk for lower educational outcomes–meaning employers have a vested interest in protecting them.
Anti-transgender activists and lawmakers often raise false concerns about what might happen if trans people can use appropriate bathrooms. Businesses can help myth-bust and disrupt stereotypes by implementing transgender-inclusive corporate policies, then publicly sharing their experiences when they’ve done so successfully. This can help change the conversation in 2018 and beyond.
Businesses can also become active policy advocates on this issue by filing amicus briefs in key legal cases, tailoring their corporate giving programs, speaking out in support of local and state nondiscrimination laws, and supporting school-district policies that protect transgender students. In November 2018, for example, Massachusetts voters will decide whether to keep public accommodation protections for transgender people, and businesses in the state will need to get into the fight to defend them.
4. Build A More Diverse And Inclusive Workforce
A record-breaking 609 companies earned perfect scores this year in the Human Rights Campaign’s annual assessment of employers’ LGBTQ workplace policies. Those include things like transgender-inclusive health insurance, nondiscrimination protections, internal education opportunities and accountability metrics, and public commitments equality. So take a look at your own internal policies in 2018 and revise them if need be. Speak up for LGBTQ rights in the community your business operates, showing current and prospective employees and customers exactly where you stand.
In our current political climate, many communities feel under attack, whether from the courts, the Trump administration, or state or federal politicians. Good employers don’t simply cut paychecks every two weeks. They have to model good citizenship–not just in words but in actions–in the communities where their LGBTQ employees live and work. We’ve already seen this year that when businesses speak out against discrimination, their united voices are a powerful force for progress. In 2018, let’s make them even louder.
Ineke Mushovic is the executive director of the Movement Advancement Project.