The Many Follies of Discrimination against LGBT Individuals

In the past month, two states in the US have passed laws essentially legalizing some forms of discrimination against LGBT individuals. In Mississippi, employers can cite religious beliefs for setting policies regarding dress, and locker room and bathroom use. Advocates rightly argue this is aimed at trans individuals and restricting their rights to various facilities. There is a more restrictive law in North Carolina. This state restricts people to using facilities that are consistent with their sex assigned at birth. The law also bars state employees who are fired based on their demographics from suing the state, thereby leaving people little recourse against employment discrimination.

The laws in both states severely restrict the rights of LGBT individuals and effectively serve to promote prejudice and discrimination. It is difficult to conjure a way in which these promote the well-being of citizens of those states. 

In addition to being morally reprehensible, the laws are also likely to negatively affect the states economically. Richard Florida's Creative Capital Theory holds that regional economic development is spurred by creative people. And, creative people are attracted to regions that have high levels of technology, education, and diversity. With respect to the last dimension, LGBT diversity and inclusion is one of the best predictors, as geographic areas characterized by LGBT diversity and inclusion are also likely to be inclusive of other differences, too. His empirical work in areas like Austin and Seattle offer robust support for this theory. 

We have also observed as much in sport organizations. In one study, I found that athletic departments with high levels of LGBT diversity and inclusiveness had more creative work environments than their peers. In another study, Nicole Melton and I observed that people were attracted to LGBT fitness organizations, more so than other fitness clubs. In a third study, we found that athletic departments with high levels of LGBT diversity and inclusion outperformed their peers on objective measures of performance. 

The evidence is clear: discrimination against LGBT individuals does not pay--it only hinders. It thwarts economic development, the attraction of talented people, creativity, and overall performance. And, lest one should think these are findings only observed in academic studies, a long list of companies have decided to boycott North Carolina, and several states have barred state employees from visiting on state business (for an overview, see here). Similar measures against Mississippi are sure to follow. 

I hope these boycotts offer evidence for what others have long proclaimed: inclusion is the best approach.