When Amazon executives recently toured the Dallas-Fort Worth area, one of 20 finalists for a second company headquarters, local officials touted its growing workforce and low taxes as perfectly suited to accommodate 50,000 planned Amazon jobs.
But the local team also brought an unexpected guest: the Rev. Neil G. Cazares-Thomas, pastor of a predominantly gay megachurch in Dallas. He impressed upon the Amazon representatives how inclusive and welcoming the community has been to him, his husband and the 4,000 congregants at his church, according to people familiar with the meeting.
In the high-stakes contest to become Amazon.com’s new location, it may have been a shrewd move. Although the company’s search materials don’t make it explicit, Amazon has quietly made rights for and acceptance of gay and transgender people part of its criteria in choosing a second headquarters, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely.
As Amazon executives recently toured finalist locations to help select what they’ve dubbed HQ2, they asked public officials about what sort of “compatible cultural and community environment” — the wording from the company’s search parameters — each city offers, adding to speculation about whether Amazon will choose a liberal stronghold.
In North Carolina, company representatives asked pointed questions of Gov. Roy Cooper (D) about several state policies such as the “bathroom bill,” which restricted the use of public facilities by transgender people, according to a person in the room. In another city, an Amazon executive groaned at the mention of proposed legislation in Georgia that would restrict funding for same-sex adoption, according to another person who attended the meeting between the company and state and local officials.
Given the publicity and economic impact of the project, including as much as $5 billion in capital expenditures, Amazon’s push on gay and transgender rights may increase pressure on state and local policymakers who have either declined to institute equal-rights rules or passed laws some view as discriminatory.
The sponsor of the Georgia bill, state Sen. William T. Ligon Jr. (R), said the issue of same-sex adoption wasn’t intended to be discriminatory . . . . . “If you’re against, then I think we need to think hard about whether you ought to come here,” he said. “We need to seriously consider whether we want you to come here.”
That sentiment has not played well at Amazon, according to a person who has been on tour with Amazon as it meets with local officials. “I just think Atlanta’s out,” the person, who is not an Amazon employee, said.
The company’s search for a region of “compatible cultural” values is one of many issues it has said it’s considering as it chooses the new headquarters. But gay rights has emerged as a focus for the company’s founder and chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos.
Amazon’s second headquarters project is the biggest economic development prize — by a long shot — that many industry veterans say they have ever seen. . . . . For HQ2, the company estimates it will hire as many as 50,000 people, make $5 billion in capital investments and fill 8 million square feet of office space, which would be larger than the Pentagon.
Although Amazon is not sharing details of its meetings and requires nondisclosure agreements from bidders, its conversations with local officials are driving them to make or propose changes in an effort to woo the company. Some jurisdictions are pressing ahead with airport expansions or improvements that might impress Amazon.
While Amazon’s inquiries on gay rights may anger conservatives, LGBT advocates say the company is not going far enough. One group wrote to Bezos asking that he not choose 11 locations in nine states that have not passed comprehensive legal protections for people based on their sexuality or gender. . . . “We’re talking about a decision that will affect the quality of life of thousands of people,” said David Mixner, a writer and activist who signed the letter. “If all they are concerned about is money, then they roundly deserve to be criticized.”
Officials in other regions have argued that if Amazon wants to maximize its support for the issue, it could relocate to — and bring change to — a politically red state. With someone like Bezos around, city and business leaders in Dallas and Austin, both HQ2 finalists, say they could do more to change attitudes in the state.
Hopefully, Amazon will view Virginia in this last category. It would either convert Republicans or - better yet - educate the population and usher in permanent minority status to Republicans.