Raleigh leaders are in Texas touting the city’s qualifications for projects like Amazon’s second headquarters.
Unfortunately for the city, activists who want to keep the e-commerce behemoth out of North Carolina are also there.
At the South by Southwest festival in Austin on Saturday, the “No Gay? No Way!” campaign said it distributed materials at the downtown Hilton hotel where Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane participated in a panel discussion about Amazon’s HQ2. The “No Way” campaign, launched last month, aims to dissuade Amazon from opening its HQ2 in states that don’t protect residents from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
No Way organizers said they targeted the festival because it’s attended by influential people, several Amazon employees are scheduled to speak, and because it’s in Texas – a state that they consider discriminatory and that is home to two of the finalist cities.
“For us the message is fairly simple. We think that Amazon should consider state laws that discriminate in their criteria,” Conor Gaughan, a campaign spokesman, said in a phone interview.
Gay and lesbian residents in some states can “can get married on a Saturday, be evicted from their apartment on Sunday and get fired on Monday” just because of their sexual orientation, Gaughan said.
The Tar Heel state made national news in 2016 when it passed House Bill 2, known as the “bathroom bill.” The controversial law blocked transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice. The state repealed the law last year, but in doing so set temporary restrictions on new local anti-discrimination ordinances.
Raleigh is one of 20 metro areas in the running to land Amazon’s HQ2, a project that will bring 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in capital investment to whichever area the Seattle-based company chooses. So state and city leaders have been promoting North Carolina’s business climate and culture of innovation, with the N.C. Commerce Department even putting ads on Seattle’s city buses.
This weekend, McFarlane and several staffers from the city’s economic development department are at South by Southwest, an event that lures thousands of people from the tech, film and music industries each year.
“It puts us out there, gets people thinking about us,” McFarlane said in a phone interview. “I’ve met a bunch of people who have really interesting businesses.”
At the festival Saturday, activists for the No Way campaign say they handed out letters detailing discriminatory laws in the states with 11 of the 20 finalists. North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania lack the anti-discrimination laws the No Way campaign advocates for.
The letters don’t target McFarlane or Raleigh. The city has an anti-discrimination policy and McFarlane opposes legislation that discriminates against the LGBTQ community.
But the letter does list several of each state’s “negative” laws. Campaign activists also hired someone to fly an airplane over Austin on Saturday with a banner that says “No Gay? No Way!”
“You don’t want to leave your civil rights and protections when you leave the city limits,” Gaughan said.
McFarlane, for her part, said she didn’t notice the activists or the plane. She said her panel discussion, “Primed for Amazon: Value & Cost of HQ2 for Cities,” focused on how governments can partner with large corporations to address issues in the community. The company could change the culture of Raleigh in positive and negative ways.
“How can we work with them to address issues like inequity?” she said. “Maybe we work with them to create internships and provide work access to citizens who have the hardest time finding work.”
The panel also talked about corporate incentives, she said, but added that no details of North Carolina’s offer were revealed.