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Arizona tech firms fight anti-gay bill and a future in a pariah state

Tech industry has been a leader in LGBT workplace equality

February 26, 2014 03:10 PM ET

Computerworld - Arizona's tech industry is united in fighting a state bill that allows a business to deny service to gay customers for religious reasons.

Critics say the measure legalizes discrimination against gays, something that is anathema to the technology industry. Tech employers such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and IBM, were among corporate leaders nationally to adopti non-discriminatory rules, equality measures and same-sex benefits.

Consequently, if Arizona implements the proposed law, known as SB 1062, it may deliver some real business hurt to the state. It could make recruiting more difficult and deter investment if Arizona earns a national reputation as an outlier on equality.

The state is being warned. On Twitter Wednesday, Marc Benioff, the chairman and CEO of Salesforce, made his displeasure with Arizona's action crystal clear: "If this bill passes we will never do another corporate event in Arizona." Apple, which is opening a new manufacturing plant in Arizona, has also asked Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the measure, which was approved by the state legislature.

The Arizona Technology Council, which represents a broad swath of the state's tech industry, urged Brewer to veto it. The council sent a letter and posted a message on its homepage urging this action.

Steven Zylstra, the council's president and CEO, said "the technology industry here as well as Arizonans in general are embarrassed and outraged" by the bill.

"None of us feel that the tenets embodied in SB1062 reflect the view of the preponderance of Arizona's citizens," Zylstra said. "We are much more open, warm and welcoming than most outside the state might imagine."

Zylstra said Brewer has been "a great friend" to business and he expects the governor to veto the bill.

If the bill becomes law, Zylstra said it will be a "substantial blow" to the state's tech industry. "It would certainly be harder to attract talent and capital," Zylstra said, and it would be "more challenging to attract companies to move here.

"Just as the economy and innovation ecosystem in Arizona are beginning to soar, it would have a stifling impact," he said.

Overall, Arizona employs 110,700 people in the tech industry, ranking it 18th nationally in tech employment, according to the most recent TechAmerica's Foundation Cyberstates report, released last year.

The importance of corporations in fostering equality was noted in a 1999 annual report by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an advocacy group. "Some of the biggest strides in making equality a fact of American life are being made in corporate and business America," the group wrote.

On the equality issue, the tech industry "has absolutely been on the forefront," said Joe Solmonese, a former HRC president, who is managing director of the corporate recovery firm Gavin/Solmonese.

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