Businesses large and small sign up to oppose discrimination
Hugh Forrest, director of the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, said SXSW supports diversity in all its forms. He couldn’t imagine SXSW without LGBT participation.
“Diversity leads to creativity,” Forrest said. “Creativity leads to innovation and innovation has been very good for business in Austin.”
So good that SXSW poured an estimated $315 million into the Austin economy in 2014.
“That’s two-thirds of a Superbowl,” Forrest said.
That’s why SXSW signed the Texas Competes pledge against LGBT discrimination.
Rob Schlein, owner of Big and Tall Direct based in Dallas, also signed the pledge. He said he had Indiana in mind when he attended the launch of Texas Competes this week in Austin.
A week after passing and then revising a law that would allow discrimination against the LGBT community, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence committed millions of taxpayer dollars in hiring a public relations firm to repair the damage he did to the state’s brand by signing the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Schlein said Texas Competes doesn’t want that to happen to Texas.
“The business community [in Texas] is being more assertive,” he said.
Schlein said the conservative business community is finally countering the Christian conservative community, whose voices have until now been much louder in the Republican Party.
This week, Texas Competes rolled out the pledge businesses are taking for LGBT diversity. Signers believe “treating all Texans and visitors fairly is essential to maintaining Texas’ strong brand as the premier home for talented workers, growing businesses, entrepreneurial innovation and a thriving travel and tourism industry,” according to the pledge.
Among the initial signers are about 120 businesses — from large to small — including the Dallas Mavericks, American Airlines, Dell and the Dallas
Convention and Visitors Bureau. Their message is that discrimination hurts all business, no matter what the size.
Former Mayor Laura Miller sits on the Texas Competes board of advisors.
“The country is watching how Texas will treat its LGBT residents and visitors going forward, and how we measure up will impact our economic prospects, from talent to tourism,” Miller said. “I am proud to stand with the business leaders across Texas in stating that Texas should be open for business.”
Not only have large companies like Austin-based Whole Foods signed the pledge, but a number of small companies have signed as well.
Joseph Strickland owns Home Slice Pizza, 1415 South Congress Ave. in Austin. When it comes to his business philosophy regarding his employees and customers, he’s about as far from Indiana’s Memories Pizza — the shop whose owner said she wouldn’t cater a gay wedding — as a business owner can get.
“We want to promote Texas as not hostile,” he said. “We’re building a business case against discrimination.”
Strickland called pizza the ultimate shared food experience. The round pizza, he said, represents love. So while he’s not expecting to cater any gay couples’ weddings, he loves when people come by his shop for a celebration for any reason.
“Nondiscrimination is just good business,” Strickland said.
“If you think you can pick and choose your customers, that’s not good for business,” Schlein said. “Now bake the damn cake.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 17, 2015.