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In March 2015, Indiana Republicans made national headlines when they passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act through their state legislature. The politicians argued the bill protected their citizens against undue government intrusion on their religious rights. For opponents, however, the law condoned discrimination against LGBT individuals, illuminating a neon sign over the Hoosier State’s border: “LGBT People Not Welcome Here.”


The economic impact was swift and unforgiving. Long-planned concerts and conventions pulled out of Indiana, including the annual meeting of the Disciples of Christ. Major corporations cancelled meetings that would have seen employees flying to the state. Travel brands warned tourists that they could face discrimination there. Lawmakers eventually backtracked, adding language to the legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity, but the lesson remained. Intolerance is bad for business.

That’s also the thesis of a campaign and accompanying report launched this week by 12 international corporations, including Google, American Express, IBM, and LinkedIn. The “Open for Business” campaign takes a global approach to LGBT rights, arguing that the nearly 80 countries that criminalize, marginalize, or persecute LGBT individuals do so at their economic peril.

Work by Florida and Mellander finds a strong correlation between GDP per capita and societies that are welcoming to gays and lesbians. Via Open for Business

The campaign and report bring together empirical evidence from a number of sources to make their case. Work by the sociologists Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander finds a strong correlation between gay and lesbian friendly countries and excellent economic performance, measured by Gross Domestic Product per capita. Economist Gianmarco Ottaviano and others find that societal diversity—by race, interest, gender, and yes, sexual orientation—stimulates the market.

Another compelling example brought forward by the report: India, which reinstated a law criminalizing “homosexual acts” in 2013. A team led by the economist M.V. Lee Badgett found that discrimination against Indian LGBT people—who have restricted healthcare, educational, employment, and social opportunities—cost the country between $1.9 and $30.8 billion in 2012, between 0.1 and 1.7 percent of its total GDP.

The campaign also cites recent work by the Harvard Business Review, which finds that companies that value difference and include larger proportions of minority employees are 45 percent more likely to have grown market share in the past year, and 70 percent likelier to have entered a new market.

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