In Lupe Valdez, lesbian and former Dallas County Sheriff who officially claimed the Democratic nomination for Texas governor, the Texas Republican Party may find a reason to shift its opposition to LGBT — lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender — rights.
For the next six months leading up to election day, Democrats will likely try to paint Republican candidates as anti-LGBT in order to pull moderate voters to the polls to check the names that are followed by a “D.” After all, a majority of Texans agree that a “sincerely held religious belief” isn’t a legitimate excuse to discriminate.
Republicans in Texas have a storied past with LGBT issues. Two dozen discriminatory bills were introduced in the Texas state legislature last year, including one allowing adoption agencies to turn away same-sex couples looking to adopt. That bill is now law. And last summer, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called legislators back to Austin for a special 30-day session to tackle some of his priorities — which included the infamous bathroom bill that the legislature had failed to pass weeks before.
However, it’s not moderate voters who the Texas GOP should be concerned about alienating this time around. It’s the business community.
Amazon recently announced that it is considering both Dallas and Austin in its search for where to build a second headquarters. The company has purportedly made LGBT rights part of its unofficial selection criteria. For a bid carrying the potential to bring more than $5 billion and 50,000 high-paying jobs to the Lone Star State, losing out over an anti-LGBT scarlet letter would be an embarrassment to our economy.
During last year’s fight about whether transgender citizens should be forced to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, big business was that community’s greatest ally. Fourteen CEOs of Dallas-based businesses, including AT&T, American Airlines, and Texas Instruments, wrote a letter urging Gov. Abbott to reconsider his support of the bathroom bill. IBM—one of the largest technology employers in Texas—took out full-page advertisements in The Dallas Morning News, San Antonio Express-News and Austin American-Statesman and sent 20 of its top executives to the capitol to lobby against the bill.
According to the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, the bathroom bill was the single biggest issue driving business owners to consider moving their companies out of state. Close to two-thirds of Dallas Chamber members believe the bathroom debate hurt the state’s ability to attract and retain employees. The Texas Association of Business estimated that had Texas passed its own version of North Carolina’s discriminatory bathroom law, our state could have experienced losses up to $5.6 billion.
The business community has made its position very clear: If Texas passes discriminatory laws, employers will pass on Texas. And with record numbers of Republicans in support of LGBT rights, the Texas Republicans party must recognize that throwing the LGBT community under the bus is a losing strategy.
It’s time we told our representatives in Austin that discrimination is not the Republican way. That’s why I joined We Pledge Texas, an initiative highlighting prominent faith, business, and conservative leaders, who “oppose any and all unjust discrimination, including discrimination against the LGBT community.” I signed the pledge, as have dozens of other Texas conservatives.
Discrimination does not make for a strong economy. It's time we supported Texas Republicans who acknowledge that.
Noelle Mandell is a project director for We Pledge Texas.