On a stage during South by Southwest, Keynote speaker Jessica Shortall made a point to an international audience about the economic impact of anti-LGBTQ legislation that has been highly debated in Texas as the legislative session unfolds this year.
Shortall, who describes herself as a “bridge builder,” is the managing director of Texas Competes, a coalition of over 1,200 Texas businesses that “makes the data-driven case for Texas to be welcoming to LGBTQ people.”
She says that if a state’s brand is discriminatory, it can hurt the economy in that state. To highlight this point, she brought up North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which has been said to have resulted in a $630 million loss in profits due to organizations that boycotted doing business in the state.
Of 24 bills filed in the Texas Legislature this session that she labels “anti-LGBTQ,” she discussed with the large crowd Senate Bill 6, Texas’ version of the so-called “bathroom bill.”
While proponents of the bill say it is meant to keep predators from abusing local laws that allow transgender people to use the restroom of the gender with which they identify, Shortall said “the only group of people at risk here” are those who identify as LGBTQ.
She then went on to note that the life expectancy of the average transgender person is 35 and that 41 percent of them have attempted suicide. Shortall said society plays a role in those statistics.
“We can save their lives by telling them they are welcome in the world,” Shortall said.
Fewer U.S. teens attempted suicide in states where same-sex marriage was legal in the years leading up to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling upholding gay marriage, according to a study.
Shortall said that when she sent her prepared speech to a transgender friend before the keynote, she got a response that “blew the wheels off my heart.”
“Data doesn’t require people to understand us or accept us,” she recalled her friend saying. “We need to just be seen as people. We need to build that bridge.”