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NISSAN TAKES A STAND AGAINST ‘ANTI-GAY’ LEGISLATION

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Wed, May 25, 2011

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

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Nissan North America headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee

BACK SEAT DRIVING—When it comes to taking a stand on any issue with less than universal support, car companies typically won’t touch it with a ten foot pole. After all, why alienate any segment of your buyer base? So when Nissan issued a statement against legislation which opponents contend strips gays from the protection of anti-discrimination laws in Tennessee, people took notice. It all started when Nashville passed a non-discrimination ordinance, extending protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees of city contractors. “The ordinance,” said Stephen George of Nashville Scene, “essentially mirrored the city's policy for its own employees.” The ordinance caught the attention of Tennessee state representative Glen Casada, who saw it as an unnecessary burden against businesses. In response, he sponsored HB600, a bill to prevent local governments from instituting anti-discrimination policies that are stricter than the ones in force at the state level. HB600 and its State Senate companion, SB632, passed by comfortable margins.

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Nissan North America's plant in Smyrna, Tennessee

So how does this involve Nissan? Evidently, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry supported the measure—and Nissan North America is actively involved in the group. When word spread that the Chamber supported the measure, eyes turned to Nissan to explain its stance on the new legislation. It did, and on Friday, May 20, 2011, it issued the following statement: “Nissan has a long-standing commitment to providing a diverse, inclusive work environment for all stakeholders, including those who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender. Nissan strives to develop, promote and recruit at all levels of the organization so that our workforce represents the diverse communities and customers we serve, and to create an internal environment where everyone's background and perspective are respected. In addition, all Nissan employees who are eligible for and enroll in company benefit programs may enroll a same-sex domestic partner for medical, dental and vision coverage, and same-sex domestic partners are eligible to participate in the company's employee lease-vehicle program. We believe that consistent statewide employment standards, rather than a cumbersome array of local laws and ordinances, are essential to maintaining our state's economic competitiveness. However, HB600/SB632 has become more closely associated with eroding civil liberties than fostering a strong business climate and this we do not support.”

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On May 23rd, Nissan North America followed up with the following statement to make its position on the legislation even more clear. The statement was issued to press release channels throughout the country: "Nissan opposes HB600/SB632. While we believe in a standard State regulatory environment, we share public concerns about this bill‘s impact on diversity and inclusiveness. Nissan is committed to providing a diverse and inclusive environment for all stakeholders.” After AT&T and FedEx sided with Nissan in opposing the legislation, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry reversed its position and issued the following statement in opposition of the new measure: “The Tennessee Chamber supports a standard regulatory environment at the state level as opposed to potentially conflicting local regulations covering employment practices. That principle was the only interest the Chamber had in this bill. Because HB600/SB632 has turned into a debate on diversity and inclusiveness—principles which we support—we are now officially opposing this legislation in its present form.” In the end, however, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed the measure into law. And while the efforts to stop the measure are over for now, the potential repercussions continue onward. Among other things, it’s not clear if Nissan North America will experience any backlash for the stance it took. A few years back, Ford Motor Company was hit hard by a boycott effort initiated by the American Family Association. The AFA initiated the boycott not for any statement made by Ford, but merely because Ford advertised in publications popular in the gay community.

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Nissan North America is one of Tennessee's biggest employers

One group not likely to join in any backlash attempt is the Tennessee labor force. Nissan North America has such a large presence in Tennessee (and provide so many jobs there) that any attempt to fuel a backlash stands a good chance of being rendered null. As for Nissan’s position on all of this? David Reuter, Nissan North America’s vice president for corporate communications, told Car Connection Senior Editor Bill Voelcker: “This explicit policy of non-discrimination, on both sexual orientation and gender expression, has long been a part of Nissan's culture. And it’s not only a policy, it’s the way we operate.” - Roy Nakano

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