By Michael Bryan
In America, we mostly talk about the civil rights of LGBT persons in moral or ethical terms – and it certainly is that. Equity and justice war with the moral precepts and prejudice of religionists. But there is more to it.
It's also an economic issue. And we need to talk about that, too.
Imagine for a minute that you are talented young person who happens to be homosexual. Or you are an entrepreneur looking to start a business in which you are competing for talented people irrespective of their sexual orientation.
Where are you going to choose to live, or to start that business? Well, look at this chart (link to interactive version) and tell me what states appear attractive to you.
The states that are going to be attractive to that young person who happens to be homosexual, and to the employer who is looking to hire that person, are obviously those which most vigorously protect that person's rights. Who would want to work and live and raise a family in a state where it is legal to discriminate against you in employment, housing, and family rights because of your sexual orientation?
Note the severe poverty of legal protections for that young person in Arizona. We are talking about as much as 10% of the population who are LGBT and want their rights as citizens protected by their government. Failing to protect the rights of LGBT citizens is a severe competitive disadvantage for any state.
Why would any self-respecting LGBT person move to a state like Arizona, or stay there? Why would an employer hoping to attract talented young people do business in a state where a fair number of its prospective workers would not want to live?
Do you notice a pattern in the chart of states above? One could certainly posit political and cultural factors that would account for the distribution of rights among the states and regions, but one might also note a correlation with higher incomes, educational attainment, and economic dynamism, diversity and resilience. Coincidence? I don't think so.
Protecting the rights of LGBT citizens is an competitive economic advantage to a state, as well as the right thing to do. No society can prosper when it alienates and disenfranchises portions of its citizenry. The hard-nosed economic argument justifying pushing forward on LGBT rights should be made in conjunction with the equitable arguments usually advanced. By reminding folks that LGBT rights are good for the business climate in a state, we can further isolate those on the far right who wish to entrench legal discrimination against our LGBT citizens for religious reasons (which are, in any case, specious).