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Why an LGBT Group Wants Amazon NOT to Pick Philadelphia for HQ2

A group of LGBT activists launched an ad campaign Thursday to demand that Inc. locate its second headquarters in a state that protects LGBT people from discrimination.

By Michael Boren

A group of LGBT activists launched an ad campaign Thursday to demand that Inc. locate its second headquarters in a state that protects LGBT people from discrimination.

While the City of Philadelphia -- one of 20 finalists in Amazon's search --  has an ordinance that offers such protections, Pennsylvania does not.

"Employees, their families, and customers may work within a city, but they may live in a neighboring community," said Conor Gaughan, campaign manager for the "No Gay? No Way!!" campaign. "Without statewide protections, we are asking these LGBT citizens to give up their rights and protections on their commute beyond the city line. And without a statewide nondiscrimination law, there is no guarantee that a city ordinance won't be struck down by a discriminatory state law."

Amazon declined to comment Thursday, instead referring to its wish list for contenders, which includes populations of more than one million, an international airport, good transit systems, and "the presence and support of a diverse population."

Of Pennsylvania's 2,562 municipalities, just 44 -- or almost 2 percent -- have laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or both, according to the LGBT rights group Equality Pennsylvania. Those municipalities, though, account for nearly half the state's population.

Besides Philadelphia, those municipalities include Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and, nearby, Upper Merion and Haverford Townships, and Doylestown Borough.

A nondiscrimination bill amending the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity was introduced in the legislature more than a decade ago, but nothing has been passed.

The lack of a statewide protection "sends an all-too-clear message to LGBTQ individuals and families -- you are not equal here," said John Dawe, Equality Pennsylvania's managing director.

"If businesses want to have as many options for hiring the best talent, they would certainly think twice before they locate to a place where some of that talent pool is intentionally targeted and driven away simply because of who they are and who they love," Dawe said.

Zach Wilcha, who leads the Independence Business Alliance, Greater Philadelphia's LGBT Chamber of Commerce, is not part of the campaign but said it proves the importance of statewide LGBT protections.

"This is a great example about how having LGBT protections when it comes to the workplace and public accommodations is not only the right thing to do morally," Wilcha said, "but also makes the most business sense."

Ajeenah Amir, a spokeswoman for the city, said Philadelphia has been at the forefront of protecting the LGBT community and is one of only three cities in the nation with an office of LGBT affairs.

"When the city submitted its bid for Amazon HQ2, we touted Philadelphia's welcoming environment, including our perfect 100 on [the Human Rights Campaign's] Municipal Equality Index," Amir said. The city is advocating for protections on a statewide level, she said, "but we believe that Amazon would find Philadelphia a welcoming city for all."

Unlike Pennsylvania, New Jersey prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Newark, the state's largest city, is among the Amazon finalists.

A decision on the winning location is expected this year.


Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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