Mar 14, 2022 - Business

Austin companies pass on letter denouncing Abbott transgender order

Photo: Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/USA TODAY NETWORK

Some Austin-area companies were noticeably absent Friday when the Human Rights Campaign released a letter signed by 60 major businesses, urging Gov. Greg Abbott to abandon an order that equates gender-affirming health care for transgender children to child abuse.

Why it matters: The letter denouncing Abbott's order includes organizational names like Austin's South by Southwest and companies with a large presence here: Apple, IBM, Google, VMware and Meta.

  • And Abbott's order comes as businesses juggle their presence at SXSW, where at least one major company, Clubhouse, said it wouldn't attend because of the order.

Yes, but: Austin-area Dell, Whole Foods and Indeed were not on the Human Rights Campaign letter.

  • Indeed spokesperson Carrie Engel said the company was not approached about signing, adding that Indeed "stands in solidarity with the transgender community, and offers services and resources to support LGBTQ employees and their families."
  • A spokesperson for Round Rock-based Dell, which announced last year that it will shed its 81% stake in VMware, told Axios the company is prioritizing internal communications with its employees.
  • Amazon-owned Whole Foods did not return Axios' requests for comment.

But, but, but: The companies are supporters of Texas Competes, a partnership of business leaders committed to welcoming LGBTQ+ employees that issued its own letter last month condemning Abbott's order.

Of note: The HRC reached out to hundreds of companies, which were then able to opt in or out of the letter. The group did not disclose the companies it solicited.

What they're saying: "Anti-LGBTQIA policies go against Dell Technologies policies," Dell spokesperson Talia Hill said. "We believe in fair treatment in the workplace, regardless of race, gender identity or religion. It's a commitment we mirror in our diversity, equity and anti-discrimination policies, as well as the public policies we support."

  • Dell's Chief Marketing Officer Allison Dew also sent an internal memo to all employees underlining the company's membership in Texas Competes.
  • "We believe in access to more healthcare, not less," Dew wrote. "We are actively tracking this issue, its impact on team members and citizens and making our opposition known."

Flashback: The company's maneuver to communicate internally is similar to its handling of the state's abortion law last year, when Dell and other big businesses remained largely silent as Texas lawmakers banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy — before most women know they're pregnant.

  • But chairman and CEO Michael Dell was a vocal opponent of the sweeping, Republican-led elections bill, and the company signed a letter in 2017 denouncing the Texas Legislature's consideration of the so-called "bathroom bill," which would have required people to use public and school restrooms that match the sex on their birth certificate.
  • Plus, other companies with employees in Central Texas — like Samsung and Intel — were also absent from the latest letter, despite previously signing the letter denouncing the bathroom bill.

The bottom line: CEOs are facing more responsibility to speak out on social and political issues, but it's unclear whether pressure from corporations will have any impact on Abbott, who touted Texas as open for business in a Friday event.


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