MONTCLAIR, N.J. and NASHVILLE, Tenn., May 23, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Garden State Equality has voted to withdraw its honors of three national corporations, AT&T, KPMG and Pfizer, that serve on the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry – a Chamber that has lobbied for a bill that would actually roll back legal protections for LGBT people in Tennessee. The bill has passed both houses of the Tennessee state legislature and is now before Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.
Garden State Equality learned of the three companies' role this past Friday, May 20th thanks to the outstanding reporting by John Aravosis and Joe Sudbay at Americablog. On Friday afternoon, Garden State Equality's executive committee voted unanimously to not to honor AT&T, KPMG and Pfizer, previously slated to be among the honorees at Garden State Equality's annual Legends Dinner on Saturday, June 25, 2011 at the Jersey City Hyatt Regency.
Legends, at which Garden State Equality honors corporations, legislators and individual activists for their contributions to LGBT equality, is a black-tie spectacular featuring stars from Hollywood, Broadway and politics. An estimated 800 guests will attend Legends 2011.
"We thank Garden State Equality for standing by us in Tennessee and showing true national leadership," said Chris Sanders, Nashville Committee Chair of the Tennessee Equality Project. "We hope organizations across America will follow Garden State Equality's lead with regard to companies on the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry."
"AT&T, KPMG and Pfizer don't have to remind us that their internal workplace policies are outstanding or that they have received several awards for corporate equality and diversity. That's why we had voted to honor them," said Steven Goldstein, Chair of Garden State Equality. "And their LGBT employee groups are fantastic. But notwithstanding a company's internal policies, no company on a Board of Directors fighting against LGBT civil rights merits honors from Garden State Equality or any other pro-equality organization.
"Let our message resound everywhere," Goldstein said. "You cannot separate workplace policies from greater social responsibility, for laws that cover workplace discrimination directly affect treatment in the company workplace. You cannot boast about being a great company for LGBT equality on 29 days a month, but then work against LGBT equality on the 30th day and expect our appreciation. Equality is an everyday value."
After seeing the story on Americablog on Friday, Goldstein called Sanders at the Tennessee Equality Project. Sanders pointed out that four Nashville council members sent a letter about the bill to every company serving on the Chamber's Board of Directors, including to AT&T, KPMG and Pfizer, on April 29, 2011. In the letter, the four members of the Metro Council asked the companies to renounce the Chamber's support of the bill.
A copy of the letter is online at http://www.tennessean.com/assets/pdf/DN173731429.PDF.
This morning, Goldstein spoke with Jamie R. Hollin, one of the four Metro Council members who signed the April 29 letter. "When you serve on a Board of Directors, you're deemed to know about a Board's action," Councilman Hollin said. "But beyond that, it's abundantly clear that the companies knew, because we mailed or emailed a letter to everyone on the Board. And this has been in the Tennessee press. To this day, the only company on the Chamber Board that has told the Governor to veto the bill is Alcoa. Alcoa has acted responsibly and should be celebrated for its position."
Garden State Equality joins in celebrating Alcoa. "God bless Alcoa," said Goldstein, "and God bless the many other fair-minded companies across America that would no doubt join Alcoa if they, too, were on the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry."
"When you make choices, there must be consequences for your choices," Councilman Hollin said. "The credibility of the Board member companies is on the line. Either they support equality for everyone or they don't. You can't have it both ways."
Even after receiving the letter from the four Metro Council members, none of the companies serving on the Chamber's Board have resigned from the Chamber.
Garden State Equality finds the Tennessee bill to be an unconscionable act of hatred. First, it would nullify county and municipal laws in Tennessee that protect the LGBT community from discrimination, including a Nashville law enacted last month. Secondly, it would bar all counties and municipalities in Tennessee from enacting future laws protecting the LGBT community from discrimination. And thirdly, the bill is a direct assault on transgender people in Tennessee. The bill redefines "sex" in the Tennessee code to include only the gender designated on a birth certificate. But Tennessee does not allow a change of gender designation on birth certificates for transgender people.
AT&T and KPMG have issued statements on the bill, but only after Americablog broke the story nationally. Garden State Equality finds both companies' statements to be tepid. Neither AT&T nor KPMG publicly called on the Governor to veto the bill. Nor has Pfizer. And none of the three companies has resigned from the Chamber.
As reported on May 4th in Out & About, Tennessee's LGBT newspaper, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry issued a statement defending its support of the anti-LGBT bill because the Chamber believes employment standards "should be consistent across the state."
That comes across as preposterous, because the Chamber could call for legislation to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity across Tennessee. And according to Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project – and as reported in the Tennessee media – the purpose of the bill was clear from the start. It was introduced in the state legislature in response to the proposed Nashville ordinance, now law, requiring city contractors to pledge not to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Garden State Equality vetted nominations for its corporate honorees before the anti-LGBT bill in Tennessee came to light. Garden State Equality's decision to withdraw honors for AT&T, KPMG and Pfizer is consistent with the criteria Garden State Equality has established for honoring companies, which go beyond equality and diversity at a company's own workplace. Garden State Equality also considers the extent of each company's commitment to greater social responsibility or lack thereof.
With 82,000 members, Garden State Equality is New Jersey's largest civil rights organization. Since Garden State Equality's founding in 2004, New Jersey has enacted 212 LGBT civil rights laws at the state, county and local levels, a national record. New Jersey has sweeping anti-discrimination, anti-hate crimes and anti-school bullying laws, all enumerating sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, that are a model for America in their inclusiveness and scope.
SOURCE Garden State Equality