UPDATED: Toyota has responded to Gaywheels’ request for a statement about the company’s move to Plano, specifically as it affects LGBT employees. We’ve posted the entire statement at the bottom of this article.
This week, Toyota announced plans to pack up its corporate headquarters in Torrance, California — Toyota’s U.S. base of operations since the 1950s — and move to Plano, Texas. The shift could prove a smart one for Toyota, but how will its LGBT employees fare in the Lone Star State?
The move to Plano will consolidate four separate Toyota units under one roof: Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. and Toyota Financial Services, currently housed in Torrance, California; Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, located in Erlanger, Kentucky; and some of the Toyota Motor North America staff, based in New York City. All told, 4,000 employees will be asked to join the company at its new campus.
Many in the auto industry see the move as a good thing — a way to centralize sales, research, and development efforts in a location that’s nearer to the middle of the booming U.S. auto market. It will also help Toyota save a little cash, since Texas doesn’t have a conventional corporate tax rate.
PROTECTIONS ARE SMALLER IN TEXAS
But what does the move mean for Toyota’s LGBT employees?
California has a statewide anti-discrimination law that protects LGBT residents, and the state also offers same-sex marriage, with all the rights that confers.
Texas, on the other hand, still has a sodomy law on the books that prohibits homosexual activity (despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional in 2003). And even though cities like Houston and Austin have huge LGBT communities, Texas has no statewide law protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination, nor does the town of Plano (though nearby Dallas and Fort Worth do).
This presents a sticky situation for Toyota, which has aced the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. The automaker protects its LGBT workers in numerous ways and offers same-sex couples the same right and benefits as their opposite-sex peers. We don’t expect that will change at all — something that David Shepardson seems to have confirmed from Toyota earlier this week.
How LGBT employees will fare outside the Toyota campus is another matter altogether. How will they be treated in a place that is, at the very least, deeply conservative, and at worst, homophobic?
That’s not an idle question. For example, what happens when one of Toyota’s gay employees goes to the hospital to stay with the husband he legally married in California, then gets booted out because, under Texas law, he’s no more than a roommate?
What happens when a female couple wants to rent an apartment for their relocation to Plano but is turned down by the landlord because he refuses to rent to lesbians — which, as in many states, is perfectly legal?
Bottom line: At work, Toyota’s LGBT employees won’t notice much of a difference between Torrance and Texas. Once they leave the office, though, they’ll give up many of the rights they currently enjoy.
The good news is that Toyota’s move won’t take place for a while. The automaker expects to break ground on the Plano campus this fall, and construction won’t be completed until late 2016 or early 2017.
By that time, the situation in Texas may have changed dramatically — at least for married couples. Yes, sodomy laws will probably still be on the books. And it’s very, very unlikely that Governor Rick Perry — who, like many homophobes, has been dogged with gay rumors for years — or his successor will push for a statewide LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance.
However, both state and federal judges have found Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. That’s in keeping with every other judicial decision in the dozens of same-sex marriage challenges currently winding their way through America’s legal system. We would be very surprised if, within the next couple of years, all states were not compelled to recognize same-sex marriages.
That doesn’t mean that states will have to issue same-sex marriage licenses themselves, but if a marriage is legal in Massachusetts, Mississippi will have to recognize it and grant that couple all the benefits that opposite couples have. If that shift happens before the end of 2016, it would ease the transition for LGBT couples who make the move to Plano.
Also, it’s worth remembering that Michigan — home to America’s domestic auto industry — isn’t all that different from Texas. Same-sex marriage is illegal there (for now), and there’s no statewide protection for LGBT residents. But despite those inequities, Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors have many LGBT employees who are happy to live in Michigan and are treated very well.
It will take some adjustment, and chances are, Texas won’t be quite as accommodating as Torrance, but we hope and expect that Toyota’s LGBT workers will feel at home.
Note: Earlier this week, we asked Toyota for a comment on the move and how it might affect LGBT employees. To date, we haven’t received a response.
UPDATE: Mike Michels, VP of Communications for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., has sent Gaywheels an official statement about Toyota’s move to Plano and its effect on LGBT employees:
“Toyota has a number of affinity group organizations including one for our LGBT associates. Diversity and inclusion is a priority for Toyota North America. We have assured our LGBT team members and associates who may move to Plano from Kentucky, California, and New York, that eligibility for Toyota partner health and welfare benefits will remain the same.
“All associates will be provided a company-paid trip for associates and one other person to explore Plano and the surrounding communities before they decide to join us on this journey.
“While it is difficult to forecast state political changes, as Gaywheels correctly notes, the majority of the move will take place late 2016 or 2017, and by that time some of the legal changes referenced are likely to have taken place.
“Quality of life was one of many considerations in choosing the site.”
[h/t John Voelcker]