Once again, tech companies have found themselves in the midst of a culture war in response to action by the Trump administration.
On Wednesday, the administration rescinded guidance for transgender students in public schools, repealing a similar letter which the Obama administration had issued in May 2016 to allow students to use school facilities that conform with their gender identity. The new joint letter, issued by the Justice Department and the Department of Education, ultimately turns the implementation of non-discrimination policies for transgender students over to the states.
Apple, the world’s most prominent company led by a member of the LGBTQ community, was among the first to speak out. In a statement provided to TechCrunch, Apple denounces the joint action:
“Apple believes everyone deserves a chance to thrive in an environment free from stigma and discrimination. We support efforts toward greater acceptance, not less, and we strongly believe that transgender students should be treated as equals. We disagree with any effort to limit or rescind their rights and protections.”
Google provided a similar statement:
“We’ve long advocated for policies that provide equal rights and treatment for all. We’re deeply concerned to see a roll-back in transgender students’ rights.”
Other executives, including Salesforce’s Marc Benioff are speaking out on Twitter:
While it might not be immediately apparent why tech companies would want to speak out on federal guidance affecting schools, many of them, including Apple, have programs that serve educators and schools specifically. But in a broader sense, these companies appear to realize that the friction over transgender student protections taps into a wider issue of symbolic discrimination that affects employees and business alike.
In 2016, tech companies including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Intel and IBM spoke out against North Carolina’s HB2, which blocked local jurisdictions from passing their own LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws. Similar bills could proliferate in light of the Trump administration’s actions, which encourage states to handle the issue of transgender rights. After a stint of early silence, tech companies are increasingly taking a stand on some of the political flare-ups coming out of the Trump White House, and this appears to be the latest flash point.
While the Trump administration argues that this letter is being issued “in order to further and more completely consider the legal issues involved,” the message is resoundingly clear for transgender individuals who could look to the former guidance as a form of federal protection for often fraught practical issues, like using the bathroom or locker room designated for the gender with which they identity. Beyond the symbolic meaning of the guidance, those scenarios can give rise to an environment of harassment and even violence against transgender people, already one of the most vulnerable populations in the United States.
We have reached out to a number of major tech companies about their position on the Trump administration’s actions and will update this story as we receive additional statements.
IBM has provided TechCrunch with the following statement on the matter:
IBM has had an explicit policy of non-discrimination based on gender identity or expression since 2002, and we are opposed to discrimination in all its forms, including any policies that discriminate based on gender identity in education.
Microsoft directed us to a tweet from President Brad Smith:
Intel directed us to a pair of tweets, one from CEO Brian Krzanich and another from Chief Diversity Officer Danielle Brown:
Facebook also provided TechCrunch with a statement in response to the Trump administration’s letter:
Facebook is a strong supporter of equality. We stand for ensuring equal rights for everyone, including transgender students, and will continue to advocate for more rights instead of fewer.
Late Thursday, Salesforce reached out to expand on Benioff’s tweet:
Every child deserves an opportunity to succeed free of fear, anxiety, and threats of discrimination. Salesforce strongly believes that all students, including transgender students, should be treated as equals, and we disagree with any effort to limit their rights. Equality for all.
Yahoo’s statement to TechCrunch is the following:
Yahoo has and always will recognize the inalienable right to equality for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. The action taken by the Administration is troubling and goes against all that we believe in.
Statement from Tumblr’s Social Impact and Public Policy Lead Victoria McCullough:
Tumblr is deeply committed to supporting and protecting LGBTQ+ equality. We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and the move to rollback federal protections for transgender students at a critical time in their lives is unacceptable.
Late Thursday, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey spoke out on the platform:
At Adobe, we believe we believe in everyone’s right to express their own identity, especially our youth. We also believe that respect and equality are human rights. Whether in the workplace or schools, we’ll continue to advocate for equal rights for all people regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religious beliefs.