Tuesday, May 09, 2006

gay rights and economic development

There is continuing debate in the state of Ohio to create laws to define the rights of homosexual couples to engage in such actions such as the adoption children and the ability to marry. Regardless of where you fall on this issue, this response (which I truncated) from the FAF's blog (thanks to the link from George at Brewed Fresh Daily) really caught my attention:

[after describing recent proposals to limit gay rights]

Realistically, I know I'll be living here for at least another year, until I've completed my graduate program. And during that time I'll be reading and fuming about further ways Ohio will tell me to go f**k myself.

But after? I'm finally realizing I have to get out. Another state? Another country? I don't know yet.

But there has to be a place that will value what I offer. That won't try to beat me down repeatedly. That won't tell me that I'm the cause of society's ills. That I'm second class. That I'm disgusting.

People will say I'm letting them win if I leave. They'll tell me that I need to stand up and fight to take back this state. But I don't see that I will. I don't see that I can.

Wow. Strong words.

I think we can also look at this issue as not just a religious one, or a social norms one, or a social justice one, but from an economic development perspective as well.

As an exercise, I'm going to choose the often-debated statistic that 2% of the population is gay. Different people will tell you different values on this statistic, but just scale up the numbers if you want to recalculate the following:

According to the Department of Labor Statistics there are 5.3 million workers employed in Ohio. If 2% are homosexual, that means there are about 100,000 workers of this orientation that actively contribute to the economy of the state of Ohio - who work across a spectrum of industries, including knowledge-based jobs critical to Ohio's future.

It's a problem if 100,000 people in this state believe who currently live here believe they will be accepted somewhere else, and are willing to leave to find a place more accepting of who they are.

But I don't think this argument can be limited to whatever percentage of the population is gay. Many, many, many more people WANT to live in a society where diversity and their neighbors are accepted, and these people are an even greater chunk of the population. They want an inclusive Ohio, and when people complain about the "brain drain" in this state they need to realize that for many people the social environment is just as important as the economic environment when they choose to live here. An anti-gay stance by state legislators chases away straight people too.

Some may feel it cheapens the debate to take a social rights issue and make it a dollars-and-cents one. But I believe if you really care about the future of Ohio's economy, you should take steps to make Ohio attractive to all people, and not just a select few.

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