Why would the Fortune 500's highest-earning company try to stop a bill to protect children from sterilization?
Call it "woke capital." This spring, the Arkansas Legislature passed the Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act to protect children from hormonal and surgical interventions to treat gender dysphoria. When Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed the bill on April 5, the Walton Family Foundation, the nonprofit group run by the family that owns Walmart, the state’s largest employer, waded in. It praised Hutchinson and condemned the bill for sending "the wrong message to those willing to invest in or visit" Arkansas. In political circles, money matters.
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Yet, Arkansas lawmakers in this instance opted to listen to the strongest scientific evidence and the concerns of most parents and voters. Putting the interests of children first, they overrode the governor’s veto. Lawmakers elsewhere should do the same.
Across the nation, transgender activists are enlisting the economic and political clout of big corporations to defeat state laws that would protect children from being sterilized by "sex change procedures" and keep female athletes from having to compete against biological men. In Missouri, Georgia, and elsewhere, woke corporations have thrown their weight behind bills to limit religious freedom. More than 100 businesses, including Target, Kellogg's, and Nike, that cater to children and women, have signed a statement pledging to oppose protections for female athletes and gender-confused children.
These corporations are no longer interested only in delivering the products and services the public wants. They now have political and social agendas of their own. Megacorporations also have access to political pressure points few others can touch.
In South Dakota, for instance, legislators expressed fear that passing a bill to protect women's sports would anger Amazon, the corporate behemoth that had begun construction for a fulfillment center in Sioux Falls. They knew that the company, which sells 53% of all books sold in the country, has banned books that question whether children should undergo sex-change operations. Moreover, its CEO, Jeff Bezos, is an outspoken advocate of gay and transgender values. In the end, the Legislature passed the bill, but Gov. Kristi Noem effectively vetoed it by sending it back to the Legislature for "style and form" revisions.
Corporations are free to articulate positions on debated issues, but we are in a dangerous place when the most powerful forces in our society have unbridled authority to stifle debate by banning books on debated issues. Voters are on the side of these parents. More than 66% disagree with letting children under the age of 18 undergo sex-change surgery or take cross-sex hormones. By the same margin, they oppose letting men or boys who identify as transgender compete in women's and girls' athletics. As Crystal points out, it is parents, not corporations, who care for children. "We make countless, daily sacrifices, working long hours to make ends meet, taking them to extracurricular activities, caring for them when they are sick—to ensure our children can have the best life possible."
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Lawmakers should heed their voices, not billionaire CEOs. Parents and lawmakers are fighting back by endorsing the Promise to America’s Children and introducing bills such as the SAFE Act. And shareholder efforts to call corporations to account are starting to get results. These shareholders understand that protecting the free market and holding woke corporations accountable is not an either/or proposition—we can and should do both.
The politicization of corporate America now threatens the freedoms and values most hold dear. If corporate elites are going to muck about in politics, they should consider what the majority of their customers believe is best for their children. That’s not hard to figure out. All they need to do is talk to their key constituencies: customers and shareholders. If legislators can do it, so can Bezos, the Waltons, and the rest of the corporate wokesters.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Examiner