Toyota Moves To Texas: Are Its LGBT Employees Doomed To Lose Benefits? [UPDATED]

LGBT rights in TexasUPDATED: 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?

RELOCATION RATIONALE

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.

THEN AGAIN…

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]

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  • AcceptableAlternativeJules

    Dallas in particular is a great place for people who happen to be gay to live. It has a large thriving LGBT population and one of the biggest MCC Churches in the world. Corporations in texas are accepting of LGBT community and even one of our largest employers offers benefits to same sex couples in the same fashion as heterosexual couples. To stir up false outrage in the community by assuming that there are no alternative lifestyles in the state of Texas is a shame, and is a direct insult to those that already live here happily.

    • kjonyou

      MCC Really? The 80’s called no one goes to gay churches under the age of 60. Do you have a gay community with openly gay businesses all in the same area? Do you have gay restaurants, gay gym, gay beach? Can you hold hands on the street like we can in Los Angeles without being harassed?

  • As a gay real estate agent in Dallas I will be working with some of the LGBT Toyota employees moving to the area. Have already spoken and met with a number of them. Certainly some are a bit concerned from moving from CA to TX. Myself and many others have reassured them that Texas isn’t as scary as our politicians make it seem. We welcome our Toyota family !

    • kjonyou

      You are a Realtor, of course you want everyone to move into your neighborhood. Haven’t met one yet that ever said the area they represent sucks. Your state is trying to revers ant-discrimination law! Do you tell your gay friends from out of state THAT fact?

  • Jeff Hickey

    Have you reached back out to Mike Michels for an update to his statement in response to the current actions on behalf of the Plano City Council and their Texas State Representative Jeff Leach who’s actually leading an effort in the Texas state capital to nullify non-discrimination ordinances state wide? Interesting that Toyota is moving their headquarters to and receiving tax breaks from a city that is quickly becoming one of the most homophobic in the state of Texas.

  • Richard Read

    @Jeff: I have indeed. It’s disgusting what’s going on in Texas — though I can’t say that things are much better where I live, in Louisiana. (Thank goddess I’m in NOLA.) I’ll post an update when Mike responds.

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