As Tacoma small business owners for 42 years, my wife Ann and I believe that treating all people fairly and with respect is part of building a strong foundation for a successful business.
We know that treating all customers and all employees equally and justly is right for businesses and right for Washington. What matters most is what we have in common – hard work, respect for the customer, and respect for our employees.
But now Initiative 1515, a ballot proposal to repeal Washington’s decade old non-discrimination protections for transgender people, could have serious unintended consequences and costs for taxpaying businesses like ours.
Transgender people are members of families, communities and workplaces. Like everyone else, they should be treated fairly and equally under the law. That’s why we are joining other businesses, large and small, in opposing I-1515.
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Major regional economic engines like Microsoft and Google oppose I-1515 because it would impede their ability to attract talented employees to the state. Dozens of small businesses oppose it because it could drive away vital tourism and conventions essential to Washington’s economic development, and open the doors to expensive litigation.
We’ve already learned from states like North Carolina that repealing non-discrimination protections can cost millions. That state may already have lost thousands of jobs, as prospective employers move positions into better locations for their customers and employees.
For instance, PayPal recently announced that the company is canceling plans to make Charlotte the home of a global operations center that would have included 400 new jobs.
Now the U.S. Department of Justice is telling North Carolina that it will lose more than half a billion dollars in federal funding for its K-12 schools. A new analysis from UCLA’s Williams Institute estimates that Washington could lose up to $4.5 billion in federal funding for education and other programs if I-1515 passes. That could be devastating to our region.
Worst of all, I-1515 undermines the respect and understanding that are essential to human beings operating together as co-workers and neighbors. By singling out transgender people for discrimination, the initiative threatens the dignity of our fellow human beings and undermines the foundation of Tacoma’s thriving community.
I-1515’s backers say their initiative is about safety and privacy. As parents of three children, my wife and I agree we must do everything we can to protect our families. However, discriminating against transgender people does nothing to decrease the risk of sexual assault, harassment or violence. That’s why 250 sexual assault and domestic violence prevention groups strongly oppose laws like I-1515.
When I was a Tacoma City Council member, I worked with schools all around the city. Every week for about three months, I met with classrooms of sixth graders and we analyzed the word “community.” The students came to realize that the word is actually a combination of two words: “common” and “unity.”
I remember a Baker Middle School class saying “it’s the ‘unity’ in ‘community’ that gets the job done.” Those children helped me understand that what we share unites us and makes us strong. We’re all different in certain ways, but what matters most is what we have in common: hard work, working together as a team, and respect for one another.
I’m urging my fellow community members to do the right thing and oppose I-1515. Our state's businesses, large and small, simply can't afford the negative economic impacts of I-1515. Washington is for everyone, and our economy depends on a united community working together.
Bill Evans is a Tacoma small business owner and former City Council member.