I am not ashamed to say that tears welled in my eyes as I read the note from a valued Heartland colleague.
Erica Irvin was sharing a very personal story of discrimination. Erica explained that she was born just four years after the landmark Supreme Court case, known as Loving vs. Virginia, which declared that states could no longer outlaw marriage between people of different races.
Even after the court decision, however, businesses could still legally refuse services to people like Erica’s parents, justifying discrimination on the basis of personal or religious beliefs.
“While my dad was in the service, my mom would rent an apartment and then would be promptly evicted when my dad came home on leave,” Erica recalled. “She slept in the car with a newborn/toddler in between apartments because landlords reserved their right not to rent to us based on their moral/religious objection to ‘mixed race’ marriage.”
Erica added: “You don’t have to have a personal story or a person in your life impacted by this nonsense in Indiana to know that it’s wrong and to stand up and say so—but I do and I thank you for saying so.”
I had objected strongly when lawmakers recently passed a bill that gave businesses the right to refuse service to anyone in the LGBT community in Indiana—a state that is home to many Heartlanders.
I issued a public statement: “This is not a matter of politics or religion, but rather a test of our character to treat others as we wish to be treated.”
The law was clearly bad for the business climate of Indiana, I contended, but the real harm of such a measure ran much deeper than the bottom line.
“It is an affront to neighbors, friends, family members, fellow workers and customers,” I wrote. “The people of Indiana—all of its people—deserve better.”
Ultimately, the law did prove to be unacceptable. After a terrific backlash, the law was changed to forbid it from being used as a license to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The change came after a storm of justifiable outrage from the sports world and the business community.
Heartland is a business that took a stand. As a company, we have strongly supported equality for LGBT members. Last year, in the California Proposition 8 suit before the U.S. Supreme Court, Heartland filed a legal brief supporting marriage equality for LGBT members. Even before that case, Heartland was providing equal benefits for LGBT couples. It was simply the right thing to do.
As Erica Irvin put it, denying basic human rights to others—on the basis of who they are or who they love—is simply nonsense.
When I became an entrepreneur many years ago, it was my steadfast conviction that business could serve as a force for social good and justice. I have long hoped that idealistic young people would see a life in business as an honorable way to help change the world for the better. We just saw how that can happen.