Business Leaders Can Lead the Way for LGBTQ Equality in a Dangerous Climate

by Ty Cobb

Business leaders from around the world are gathering this week in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum 2018.

Business leaders from around the world are gathering this week in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum 2018. Many of these leaders have long understood that fostering talent, empowering workers, and advancing diversity and inclusion is part of a winning strategy for financial success. They know that creating inclusive workplaces and communities where their employees can thrive is an investment in their own competitive edge. And while some political leaders have tragically abdicated moral leadership on the global stage, we’ve seen time and again business leaders willing to step up and speak out for what’s right.

Leadership from the business community on equality for LGBTQ people has become more important than ever before. In far too many corners of the world, LGBTQ people face discrimination, harassment, and even violence simply because of who they are. Over the past year, we’ve witnessed a rising tide of attacks and state-sponsored persecution of LGBTQ people in countries around the globe, from Chechnya to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Georgia, Tanzania, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Egypt.

To make matters worse, these brutal crackdowns have been met with silence from political leaders who have abandoned longstanding commitments to global human rights. In the United States, that lack of leadership from the White House has been coupled with domestic policies that license — and even encourage and inspire — discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.

Over the past year, the Trump-Pence administration has sought to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military. They have worked to strip away existing legal protections for LGBTQ people and allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ citizens. They have even gone so far as to revoke federal guidance ensuring transgender students are treated fairly in schools.

The antipathy toward LGBTQ people is having a tragic impact both domestically and internationally — where human rights abuses are being met with deafening silence. In Chechnya, for example, as many as 200 LGBTQ people have been arrested, detained in secret prisons, and tortured — and reports indicate that up to 20 LGBTQ Chechens have been killed. Chechen leaders have gone so far as to encourage people to murder their family members who might be gay. Dozens have been forced to flee and leave behind their family, their jobs, and their lives — lest they be killed by their own relatives. Rather than speak out forcefully, the White House has failed to seriously raise the issue with Russian leaders. The same silence is true in countless other instances around the globe.

At the HRC, we believe that the world is a stronger and safer place when everyone can live openly without fear of discrimination or violence in the communities they call home. Fortunately, hundreds of the world’s most influential business leaders agree -- and are doing something about it.

Today, 82 percent of the U.S.’s Fortune 500 companies offer clear protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Increasingly, through the work of HRC and our partners worldwide, more and more businesses are following suit and ensuring their workplaces are LGBTQ-inclusive.

Utilizing HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, we have been able to spur wide-scale adoption of critical LGBTQ protections, equitable benefits, and inclusion efforts such as supporting LGBTQ Business Resource Groups. By benchmarking progress, the business community has flocked to the CEI to assess their own workplaces and earn a 100 percent rating — a full 609 major employers have this coveted score. Many of the participating CEI businesses (58 percent) operate globally, and the vast majority of them responded to our CEI mandate to ensure LGBTQ protections worldwide. An astonishing 98 percent of CEI-rated global employers, covering 15 million workers overall, ensure that both sexual orientation and gender identity are covered under their workplace non-discrimination statements everywhere they operate.

And the reach of this work is quickly expanding around the globe, including in Latin America and Asia. HRC recently launched Equidad MX: Global Workplace Equality Program to promote inclusion in Mexico and to move the conversation beyond U.S.-based multinationals. In its first year, PEMEX, Mexico’s largest employer and state-run oil firm, responded with leadership and earned our designation as a Best Place to Work. We fully expect more to follow as we expand this work in Chile and elsewhere.

Last year at the annual Work with Pride Summit in Tokyo, HRC President Chad Griffin addressed over 500 business leaders to reiterate our call for partnership and equality. Homegrown success stories from Sony and Panasonic — companies that very publicly introduced partner benefits in Japan — demonstrate that markets are responding to the business case for LGBTQ inclusion. Similarly, we have been working with advocates from Vietnam and Taiwan as they begin partnerships with the business community in the fight for equality.

We are at a critical precipice for LGBTQ rights, and business leaders are crucial voices in this fight. The task before us is to ensure that this week at Davos, a greater number of business leaders join the growing chorus of voices standing up for LGBTQ inclusion — even as some political leaders fail to uphold commitments to human rights around the globe.