Big Business Turns a Corner on Transgender Rights

When local radio hosts Kimberly and Beck of 98.9 The Buzz went on a 12-minute transphobic rant in response to the city's announcement that it would extend transition-related healthcare to its transgender city employees, it was an unwelcome but not unfamiliar occurrence. Transgender people live with disproportionate volumes of discrimination, from being denied jobs and kicked out of their homes, to name-calling, harassment and physical assault and targeted violence. Hate speech is spewed every day of the year in cities all across the country. Certainly, it's our constitutional right and freedom to say whatever we believe. It is also our constitutional right to disagree with that speech.

We saw the consequences of free speech play out recently at a Rochester radio station. For the first time, critical mass swiftly and overwhelmingly spoke out in support of transgender rights and against ignorance. Perhaps most significantly, we watched as big business positioned itself on the right side of history and came to the defense not of its transphobic radio hosts, but of the transgender community.

Following an energetic campaign organized by transgender activists and allies all across New York State which soon went viral nationally, advertisers were quick to pull their financial support from the program and the station. The radio hosts were fired, apologies were issued, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community -- accustomed to seeing business owners remain passive bystanders during instances of bigotry and sensationalist media reports -- was pleased and heartened to see what may be among the first in a shifting landscape; corporate America's realization that you must be LGB and T inclusive to succeed.

American businesses are ahead of the curve on LGBT rights. We saw it not long ago in Arizona when corporate came to the defense of the LGBT community when a law that would legalize discrimination reached Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's desk. The pressure from big business ensured a veto and the law dissolved. Earlier that same month, published author and fierce
transgender activist Janet Mock took the limelight on Piers Morgan's CNN interview show, Piers Morgan Live, only to be subjected to invasive and ignorant questions and on-camera bullying. The fallout from his transphobic interviews went national, and far from shoring up his failing reputation and fading ratings, seemed only to hasten the cancellation of his show.

Even big tech companies like Mozilla, whose CEO was forced to resign after less than two weeks on the job because of his anti-equality views, are having to come to terms with the new national mood, in which discrimination against LGBT people can no longer be seen as business as usual.

We've seen a seismic shift in visibility for transgender Americans in particular in just the past year. More than one third of the nation now provides protections for its transgender residents. Here in New York, however, the bill has been stalled for 12 years due to a lack of strong leadership.

While political leaders drag their feet, big business leaders have followed public opinion, setting the standards by which local, state, and federal governments should emulate. Dozens of Fortune 500 companies in New York state alone are already offering the medically necessary
transgender-inclusive healthcare that Mayor Lovely Warren recently announced for Rochester city employees at the Empire State Pride Agenda's Spring Dinner. The sky has not fallen. Costs have not increased. In fact, what these businesses are discovering is that transgender inclusive
healthcare, like other LGBT initiatives taken in the past two decades, create welcoming environments where all employees have the freedom and opportunity to do their best work. These businesses have the competitive edge because they attract top talent. And as we all know, talented, motivated employees are also the most productive and loyal, which means
increased revenues for the companies employing them.

The rallying cries of the transgender community are no longer heard only by left-leaning, insular groups without a stake in commerce, business or popular culture. Rather, issues of importance to the ever more visible transgender community are playing out on NBC and CNN, on the New York Times bestseller list and Netflix, and in the pages of this very paper.

What happened in the City of Rochester is just one example of how the arch of history is bending toward justice one municipality at a time. Businesses know they cannot sit idly by as discrimination happens under their auspices. Indeed, the successful ones already see an opportunity to be forward-thinking and to lead the way during this time of inevitable change.