Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion on CNN.
This week, the LGBTQ rights group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ Americans, the first time the organization has ever done so. And they’re right: Despite immense progress on rights for gay, lesbian, trans and other minority groups in the United States, we are in the midst of an expansive and ugly right-wing backlash to those rights, and it’s imperiling transgender and other gender-diverse Americans and their families. And frankly, given the state of women’s rights in many of the same states attacking LGBTQ people, women’s groups should do the same.
In the first quarter of 2023 alone, 417 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures. Sixteen states now have laws either fully banning or tightly restricting gender-affirming care for minors, despite the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics supporting access to this care. States are outlawing teaching about gender identity; activists are banning books that so much as recognize the existence of same-sex couples and LGBTQ people. And although conservatives have used the pretext of “protecting kids” to deny them the medical care that their doctors and parents agree they need, states aren’t stopping there.
Florida, for example, recently legally limited gender affirming care that youths can access, while making it more difficult for adults to receive such care. And some conservative states are allowing state agencies to investigate parents who facilitate gender-affirming care for their kids for potential child abuse – posing the risk that a parent who is trying to do the best for their child will find their child taken away from them.
This is the stuff of nightmares.
These laws, and the activists pushing them, are taking a page from and overlapping with the anti-abortion movement. Many of the same states banning or tightly regulating gender-affirming healthcare are also criminalizing abortion. The overlap is so significant that a map of abortion-hostile states and a map of trans-hostile states are practically identical.
These states are not safe places to be for a great many Americans. No parent should have to worry that their child will be taken away from them simply for providing the care that doctors agree that child needs. No woman should have to risk her life because she is pregnant – but that’s exactly what’s happening in states where abortion is banned, and where doctors routinely cannot provide women having miscarriages or other complications with a full range of safe treatment options.
And no company should have to worry that a display of affirmation for LGBTQ Americans will result in vandalism, threats or harassment of employees.
It is unconscionable for any company to require its employees live in states that criminalize abortion or that are attacking LGBTQ rights. It is flatly immoral, reprehensible and dangerous to require employees to live in a place where they may not be able to get the health care they need, or where their children may be taken away from them, or where their partners may be put in serious physical jeopardy simply for having a baby, something the vast majority of American women do in their lives.
Jobs that can be done remotely should be made all-remote for workers in abortion-hostile and trans-hostile states. Some jobs, of course, cannot be done remotely. Companies should seriously consider whether they want to do business in states where the lives of their female employees of reproductive age are put at risk, and where the health and wellbeing of their LGBTQ employees and their families are far from guaranteed.
The question of whether companies should boycott conservative states is a tricky one. Lots of people cannot simply up and move, and it feels punitive to make an entire state suffer the economic consequences of bad policy.
But there are no good answers. Requiring employees to stay should simply be a nonstarter – risking your kids being taken from you, or your own death or injury, is simply too big of an ask in instead of a potentially more progressive future. Activists can and should put pressure on companies to create employee relocation funds that anyone can take advantage of, no matter their position. It is the more financially precarious state residents, after all, who will need the most help.
Undoubtedly not every person who wants to leave abortion-hostile and trans-hostile states will be able to. Some will weigh the costs and benefits – perhaps family nearby who help with child care, or aging parents who need help, or deep emotional and historical ties, or a community of loved ones, or serious financial constraints – and choose to stay.
Still, with these threats happening in the immediate term and action needed now, the pressure should be on employers to offer exit routes anyway, and to seriously reconsider the choice to do business in states that harm their own residents. Impose a cost on states with laws that hurt women and families. Impose a cost on companies that claim to care about employee wellbeing and yet donate to right-wing politicians who support these dangerous bills if it means tax breaks and other financial incentives.
At the very least, companies and organizations should fully pull out of the business of events and conferences in these states. This is particularly true for states that ban abortion. It’s unreasonable to ask pregnant employees, or pregnant people generally, to travel to states where, if something goes tragically wrong and a woman has a miscarriage or other common complication, they will get a substandard level of care – where they may wind up in the ICU, or may lose their uteruses, or may lose their lives.
Sports leagues should not host high-profile sporting events or exhibition games in states that ban abortion; doing so puts athletes, their families, and their fans at risk. Companies should not host retreats or gatherings in these states for the same reason: An employee who is pregnant, or who doesn’t yet know she’s pregnant, could face serious medical consequences simply for attending a professional conference in a state where abortion is a crime.
Taking the fight for LGBTQ and women’s rights to corporations is far from the only solution. We of course need the federal government to step in. In a better country, our top constitutional court would protect the rights of women and minorities; with our current Supreme Court, unfortunately, that’s far from guaranteed. And we need activists at every level stepping up and fighting back.
A longer campaign to change bad laws, though, doesn’t help the woman having a miscarriage today, or the gender-dysphoric teenager who needs to be able to talk to a doctor tomorrow. Pulling financial investment from the states creating these conditions, no longer requiring or incentivizing physical presence in those states, and making it possible for more employees to leave states that are overtly hostile to their existence is the bare minimum that employers, companies and organizations can do.
This is indeed an emergency. Everyone should respond accordingly.