Silicon Valley CEOs Enter the Transgender Bathroom Wars Again

Marc Benioff

Legislators and a governor in yet another state are contemplating laws to protect privacy rights in public restrooms according to biological gender (rather than “sexual identity” or “gender fluidity”) – and once again Silicon Valley tycoons are banding together to oppose it.

This time it’s Texas, about as red a Red State as there is, so unlike battleground North Carolina last year, there is no hope for these liberal plutocrats to oust the Republican governor. But that didn’t stop several tech leaders from collaborating on a letter to the Lone Star State’s Gov. Greg Abbott to lecture him and lawmakers about any law that would “discriminate” against LGBTs. Once again, as in previous instances with Indiana and North Carolina, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff drove the effort.

“We are writing to express our steadfast opposition to the introduction and passage of any discriminatory legislation in Texas,” the executives wrote. “Such laws are bad for our employees and bad for business.”

Besides Benioff, co-signers of the letter included Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook, Microsoft’s Brad Smith, IBM’s Ginni Rometty, Amazon’s Jeff Wilke, and Google’s Sundar Pichai. Fourteen companies in total were represented in the missive.

Last year Benioff helped pull together about 400 CEOs in a similar effort against North Carolina and then-Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican, who was up for re-election. Lawmakers in the state had passed House Bill 2, the “transgender bathroom bill,” which nullified a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed biological men to use women’s restrooms and locker rooms if they said they felt like a lady on a given day. The city dictate also would have forced private businesses to capitulate to the bathroom rules. The letter, delivered on the letterhead of the LGBT pressure group the Human Rights Campaign, used similar language to the CEOs’ Texas letter.

“HB 2 is not a bill that reflects the values of our companies, of our country, or even the overwhelming majority of North Carolinians,” last year’s letter said. “We are disappointed in your decision to sign this discriminatory legislation into law.”

Texas hopes to institute similar protections as North Carolina did (until they sort of repealed HB2), but it would require Gov. Abbott to call lawmakers into a special session, as this year’s legislative session has concluded.

Benioff and others conducted a strategy session late last year in anticipation of more bathroom laws in 2017, so the developments in Texas were probably somewhat expected. But with only 14 signatories and no major elections this year – and no concern over political fallout even if there was – the seriousness of the threat to the state is almost nil.

Unlike in North Carolina, it would surprise if there was any kind of economic boycott of significance in enormous and impactful Texas. The state is about as three times as large as the Tar Heel State. No corporations have fired any warning shots about cancelling expansion projects, or boycotting or withdrawing from the state. With a number of states considering similar legislation, eventually big business could end up cutting themselves off economically from half the nation if they set such a standard.

For now they will just have to settle for a nasty letter.