The last thing Boston’s business leaders want is the North Carolina Effect.
The Tar Heel State’s economy lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from canceled sports games, conventions, and other business after legislators there passed a law requiring people to use public bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their birth genders. The law was later reversed, but the damage was done to North Carolina’s reputation. The Massachusetts Legislature, meanwhile, went in the other direction in 2016: enshrining in state law nondiscrimination protections for transgender residents in public places.
That change had wide support in Boston’s business community. And it’s why the corporate community is banding together again to protect that 2016 measure.
At issue is an initiative on the November ballot, pushed by conservative groups, that would strike the 2016 language from the books.
Business leaders will rally on Tuesday at Eastern Bank’s Boston headquarters to make the case for “Yes on 3” — voting to keep the law intact. The bank and chief executive Bob Rivers helped lead the push in 2016. He says it’s important that businesses again show support. A Yes on 3 campaign spokesman says the effort — led by LGBQT advocacy groups — has raised $2.3 million so far.
Of that amount, corporate contributions amount to $534,500. Rivers said Eastern has kicked in $50,000.
“It’s a very important business issue, from the standpoint of talent attraction and business retention,” Rivers said.
Rivers knows the group will likely need more — ballot battles aren’t cheap. Tuesday’s event is aimed at raising money and awareness. Rivers is expected to speak, as is Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce chief executive Jim Rooney. Representatives from local employers are also expected to be there — Biogen, Bank of America, MassMutual, National Grid, Putnam, to name just a few.
“It would create a pause in people’s minds around what Massachusetts is all about,” Rooney said of the proposal to repeal the 2016 language. “It’s important that we not wait until after the fact.”
Yvette Ollada, a spokeswoman for the No on 3 campaign, indicated that her side is worried about predators using the law as an excuse to enter public bathrooms and photograph unsuspecting women or children. Ollada said businesses support the 2016 law because they were not required to incur any costs in terms of building single-occupancy bathrooms. She said if the law is repealed, and an alternative is required to make bathrooms and locker rooms safe for all, businesses would need to install single-occupancy bathrooms, a hefty expense.
None of the executives interviewed cited the costs of bathrooms as a factor in their support of the Yes on 3 campaign. Instead, the executives involved say they are doing what they think is morally right. But they are also watching out for the Massachusetts brand. North Carolina’s mistake, they say, shouldn’t be repeated here.
“It would be a real black eye to the state,” said Michael Caljouw, vice president of government and regulatory affairs at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, a Yes on 3 campaign supporter. “We have a history of strong collaboration within the business community on issues of social fairness. Combine that with the economic threat, and this was an important thing for us to rally around.”Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.