When it comes to inclusion and equal treatment of LBGT employees, Toyota is at the top of the list. And it helps that the majority of Toyota employees live in a tolerant state like California. But could that change when the company's U.S. headquarters move to Texas in a few years?
Toyota is moving 5,300 employees from California (and some in New York and Kentucky) to Plano, Texas, a move Texas welcomed with open arms and an open pocketbook. It'll serve as a devastating blow to Torrance, Calif., who was apparently blindsided by the news.
By all accounts, Plano seems to be your average, bland, subdivision-laden corporate town. (It's also the home of JCPenney's headquarters!) I asked your Texan Jalops, Matt and Patrick, for their best summations of Plano, and all I got was "wealthy and conservative." But while not as exciting as, say, Dallas, it's worth nothing that Texas' ninth-largest city regularly appears on best-of lists when it comes to standards of living.
Seems like it would be a smooth transition, since Torrance is pretty suburban itself. But as Richard Read at GayWheels points out, it could be a culture shock for however many gay employees there are at Toyota — and if it's at all reflective of the auto industry as a whole, there might be many — who might not be as welcome in a state that has an anti-sodomy law on the books, allows landlords to discriminate against gay couples and doesn't recognize same-sex marriage.
That's a sea change from liberal California, which not only recognizes but performs same-sex marriages. And while I wouldn't be too worried about an archaic anti-sodomly law, it is possible a landlord could turn away (or evict, if found out) a couple, since the same anti-discriminatory Housing and Urban Development laws that protect gay couples in federally assisted housing don't apply at the private level.
I emailed a Toyota spokesman about what safeguards the company has in place for gay employees, and here's what I got back: "Toyota has a number of affinity group organizations including one for our LGBT associates," he writes. "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."
That's all well and good on the corporate level, but what about Texas culture itself? Read points out that notoriously homophobic Gov. Rick Perry will no longer be in office when Toyota breaks ground in Plano (he's not running for re-election after this term), so a door could open to removing legislation that bars gay Texans from equal rights. Or we may just see the Supreme Court remove the last barriers to gay marriage.
Our Toyota spokesman hinted as much as well. "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," he writes.
So why Plano and not the more progressive Austin or Houston? "Quality of life was one of many considerations in choosing the site," he writes. But he notes that Toyota is offering travel expenses for employees and spouses to explore Plano and its surrounding areas before they move there to decide if it's the place for them.
Any Plano residents out there want to give the 411 on what life is really like?