Feb 28, 2022 - News

Texas business community condemns Gov. Abbott's transgender order

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The statewide business community is condemning Gov. Greg Abbott after he likened gender-affirming care to child abuse — but business leaders have stopped short of threats to leave the state.

Driving the news: Texas businesses issued a cascade of statements in response to Abbott's latest order, which demands that state agencies investigate care for transgender kids.

  • The governor's letter to state agencies last week said doctors, nurses, teachers and anyone who comes into contact with a child has a requirement to report parents or face "criminal penalties."

What they're saying: "Every year, we face creative new attempts to curtail the rights of LGBTQ Texans," says a letter issued by Texas Competes, which counts more than 1,400 businesses, large and small, as partners, including Whole Foods, Dell and Tacodeli.

"We are gravely concerned about this week's use of non-binding opinions to attempt to insert the state into parents' private medical decisions for the best interests of their children," the letter continues.

"When Texas sends this dangerous message, it is at stark odds with our members' values and competitiveness — especially in a climate where all sectors have struggled to recruit and retain a talented workforce. We oppose any attempts to separate loving families; to criminalize lifesaving care; and to force teachers and medical professionals to place families in danger."

Between the lines: Businesses nationally have not mobilized this month the way they did in 2017, when they killed a bathroom bill by threatening to scuttle major sports events and conventions in Texas.

  • That bill would have required transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on their "biological sex."

In an interview with Axios, Landon Richie, a 19-year-old sophomore trans male at the University of Houston who has testified on Texas transgender laws, drew a straight line between the 2017 bill and Abbott's recent order.

  • "My first reaction is anger and fear," Richie tells Axios. "For myself and so many other trans people, gender affirming care has been life-saving. To equate gender affirming care with child abuse is just outrageous and extremely harmful."

Our thought bubble: Abbott's boldness illustrates, yet again, that several years after the departure of former Texas House Speaker and moderate Republican Joe Straus, the socially conservative wing of the Texas GOP is ascendant.

  • When Dallas-based American Airlines spoke out against Texas legislation restricting voting last year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called the company out by name, arguing that "Texans are fed up with corporations that don't share our values trying to dictate public policy."
  • Of note: Many of the businesses this time around are not speaking out directly — as they did in 2017 — but instead via Texas Competes.

The bottom line: Businesses are trying to reassure their employees.

  • "We are actively tracking this issue, its impact on team members and citizens and making our opposition known," Allison Dew, Dell Technologies chief marketing officer, told employees in an internal company missive.

Bonus thought bubble: Companies may be avoiding directly commenting on Abbott's latest move because many say it doesn't have the force of law — and they may be trying to avoid giving it more heft.


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