OPINION: Restricting trans rights hurts people and the economy

by Ricardo Martinez | Equality Texas
Thursday, 12 August 2021 16:31 GMT

Jun 23, 2021; Saint Paul, MN, Saint Paul, MN, USA; A Trans Pride flag is waved before the start of a game between Austin FC and Minnesota United at Allianz Field. Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

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These restrictions mean that many trans people feel unsafe fully participating in their communities and contributing to the economy.

By Ricardo Martinez

This year has seen an unprecedented wave of attacks on trans Americans.

Across the country, anti-equality lawmakers are pushing bills to curtail trans people’s healthcare access, exclude trans kids from participating equally in school sports, and make it harder for trans people to navigate daily life.

These restrictions mean that many trans people feel unsafe fully participating in their communities and contributing to the economy. When trans people, and LGBT+ people generally, are shut out of these opportunities, economically, we all lose out.

Recent history has shown us that when states restrict LGBT+ rights, they lose money and economic opportunities.

Laws targeting trans people creates instability and discourages business growth and tourism, since bookers for conventions, sports, and entertainment may cancel or avoid planning events in states with an anti-LGBT+ reputation, and employers struggle with recruiting and retaining workers.

Most notorious is North Carolina’s 2016 ‘bathroom bill’, which proposed that in government buildings, individuals may only use restrooms and changing facilities that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. The bill cost the state more than $600 million in publicly reported losses, and was projected to cost more than $3 billion if it remained in effect.

In Texas, a similar bill the following year cost $66 million in convention cancelations and would have cost another $1.4 billion if it had become law.

Nevertheless, this year Texas lawmakers have rushed to introduce a record high number of bills targeting the trans community, including trying to ban trans girls participating with other girls in school sports.

These unnecessary restrictions only take attention away from the solutions Texans need in healthcare, education, energy stability, infrastructure, and other areas of our economy and communities. These restrictions only help to develop and perpetuate a culture of hate and violence that has resulted in making Texas the leading state in fatal violence against Black trans women.

It’s time to move on from the baseless, harmful anti-LGBT+ climate, and take bold action to add LGBT+ people to basic non-discrimination protections at the state and federal level – something supported by a majority of voters across the ideological spectrum.

Until we do, we’re missing out on immense economic potential. A recent Texas study found that state-wide non-discrimination protections could help contribute 180,000 new jobs and $4.8 billion in state and local tax receipts in the first four years alone. Another report estimated that reducing mental health disparities for LGBT+ Texans could benefit the state’s economy by more than $280 million.

We see this phenomenon reflected at the individual business level too, because an unwelcoming Texas hampers a company’s ability to recruit and retain workers who want their families to be safe and included where they live.

For instance, Gearbox Entertainment, a global video game company headquartered in Texas, is poised to double in headcount and argued that bills targeting trans people would make it harder to recruit employees.

“Don’t drive us to where we have to start expanding outside of Texas,” said an executive at a legislative hearing this year. 

When LGBT+ students face hostile school environments, they are more likely to miss school and have lower grades, and less likely to pursue higher education. Those burdens cause stress and related productivity concerns for these kids’ parents – another worry for the employers we talk to every day.

When trans kids grow up, they encounter a host of new barriers when they want to work, rent a home, and participate in their communities.

A Texas survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality found that more than a quarter of all trans workers have lost a job due to discrimination and nearly half had been rejected as a job candidate due to their identity. This contributes to staggering rates of unemployment and poverty among folks who are ready and willing to put their skills to work, which hurts all of us.

Amid these barriers, I’m proud to continue to fight for the trans community, but I wish more LGB people and allies could realize that this fight is for them, too. Excluding a whole group of people from our communities isn’t just wrong; it has far-ranging economic consequences for all of us.

Ricardo Martinez (he/el) is chief executive of Equality Texas, the largest state-wide organization solely dedicated to securing full equality for LGBT+ Texans.

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