The online retailer and tech company Amazon.com announced last year its intention to open a second headquarters campus somewhere in North America. According to its own promotional website, the new location will be a "full equal" to the Seattle campus. Y'all, this a big deal:
We expect to invest over $5 billion in construction and grow this second headquarters to include as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs – it will be a full equal to our current campus in Seattle. In addition to Amazon’s direct hiring and investment, construction and ongoing operation of Amazon HQ2 is expected to create tens of thousands of additional jobs and tens of billions of dollars in additional investment in the surrounding community.
From that call, 238 bids arrived from all but 8 states and all but 3 Canadian provinces. In late January, the corporation publicly identified its shortlist: 20 cities.
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Austin, Texas
- Boston/Somerville, Massachusetts
- Chicago, Illinois
- Columbus, Ohio
- Dallas, Texas
- Denver, Colorado
- Indianapolis, Indiana
- Los Angeles, California
- Miami, Florida
- Montgomery County, Maryland
- Nashville, Tennessee
- Newark, New Jersey
- New York City, New York
- Northern Virginia, Virginia
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Raleigh, North Carolina
- Toronto, Ontario, Canada
- Washington, D.C.
Very soon thereafter, a self-selected group of LGBT activists decided it was in Amazon's best interest to avoid 11 of those options: Atlanta, Austin, Columbus, Dallas, Indianapolis, Miami, Nashville, Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Raleigh.
The reason: in each of these states, there are no comprehensive legal protections against firing someone, denying them housing, or refusing them service because they are LGBT.
If you—as an LGBT-identified person (or not)—figure this world revolves around just you and the people you know (and clearly you don't know ANY gay people in any of these cities), then yeah, you're justified in propping up a big No Gay No Way website and media campaign, inadvertently letting everyone of your potential supporters know that you care nothing about the LGBT-identified people who live and work and are housed in those states.
The thing is: there's a very constructive way to lead an initiative like this one. It actually engages the people you're supposed to be aligned with, the ones who you're completely ignoring in your attempt to be… altruistic?
I asked Lisa Howe, the CEO of the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the one organization (if any!) that the organizers of No Gay No Way should've consulted before selling us out, for her take on this situation. "It is frustrating to be targeted by our own LGBT community," she said. "Most LGBT advocates and our allies understand that getting a progressive business like Amazon to open a headquarters in Nashville will help bring about equality for LGBT people and their families, across Tennessee, faster and more effectively than the government and courts can do. I believe the campaign is hurting our community and making us work twice as hard to acquire LGBT equality in our state."
Chris Sanders, the executive director at the Tennessee Equality Project, put it succinctly: "If activists outside Tennessee want to help us get inclusive employment laws, then I'd say we could have a productive conversation."
I reached out to the No Gay No Way people but have yet to hear back.
Outside the LGBT world, the debate around which city Amazon will ultimately choose is quite fascinating. Forbes sees the circling around Washington, DC with three finalists remaining (Washington, Montgomery County, and "Northern Virginia") a major indicator of the region's likelihood to win the prize. Investor Place deemed six small-to-medium sized cities (plus Toronto, Canada) unlikely to be chosen; in Nashville's case, because it's actually more affordable to buy a house in Atlanta.
The New York Times uncovered some of the juicier offers from cities that did not become finalists—Detroit was pretty much willing to give away the entire city—and also speculates that Amazon found the perfect way to identify in future how flexible some cities will be when it comes time to open new warehouses and smaller offices.
Locals in Nashville seem reluctant to fully climb on board but only for one reason: do we want 50,000 more vehicles on these roads?
Nobody really seems to be betting on Nashville regarding this, and maybe that's okay. We can't win 'em all.
What we certainly don't want, though, as LGBT Tennesseans (and Ohioans, and Floridians, and Georgians, et al), are national LGBT activists looking out for "our" collective best interest by pretending we don't exist.