Representative Patricia Todd, the only out lesbian in the Alabama State Legislature, had a plan to get attention for a bill that would ban discrimination against LGBT state employees: Name it the "Tim Cook Economic Development Act." The bill's title would honor Apple's CEO, who came out as gay in October. Cook recently criticized Alabama — his home state — for allowing discrimination against LGBT employees.
Apple was less enchanted with the idea of a LGBT-rights bill named after its chief executive, Todd said.
"I did get a call from Apple asking me not to name it the Tim Cook bill," she told BuzzFeed News. "They don't want their corporation tied up in the political battle. I understand where they are coming from. I quickly said I would not name it after him."
But it's difficult to begrudge Todd, a Democrat, for trying to get attention. Naming the bill after Cook was a "kind of tongue in cheek" way to give her bill a boost in a hostile climate, she said. "I don't think I'll get very far because the Republicans have a supermajority in the legislature. You have got to have a sense of humor if you're going to be a liberal in Alabama."
On being the only out gay person in the Alabama legislature, Todd laughed. "It's lonely."
Todd introduced a similar bill in 2011 that would prohibit the state from discriminating against employees, such as teachers, on the basis of their sexual orientation. That legislation never got a hearing, Todd said. "The committee chair is Republican and he told me in no uncertain terms that the bill would never see the light of day."
This time around, Todd intends to pre-file the bill before the 2015 legislative session begins in spring and add protections for transgender employees.
Taking a somewhat adversarial stance, Republican Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's office recently told the Anniston Star that the federal Civil Rights Act already bans the state from discriminating based on sexual orientation. But Todd said she knows public-school teachers in Alabama who were fired for being gay, and that she was fired from a state university because the university's board discovered she is a lesbian. Todd argued that banning LGBT discrimination would help repair the state's reputation as hostile to civil rights, a stigma that she said scares off Fortune 500 companies that want to employ a diverse workforce.
She said the GOP majority is all but certain to scotch her latest bill. "They don't think anybody is being discriminated against," she said. "What's interesting is that they are all white men who say that."
Todd said she promotes long-shot legislation to spark conversations about issues that get little attention in her southern state. "I do have a lot of fun doing this, especially when you know you're not going to win. It's not always about winning," she said. "It's about, can I move the ball forward a little bit?"
Apple has come out in support of same-sex marriage, and the Human Rights Campign has given Apple a perfect score on treatment of LGBT employees. Apple did not respond to questions by the time this story was published.
Several hours after BuzzFeed News published this article, Apple provided a statement.
“Tim was honored to hear that State Rep. Todd wanted to name an antidiscrimination bill after him, and we’re sorry if there was any miscommunication about it," Apple spokesperson Kristin Huguet wrote in an email. "We have a long history of support for LGBT rights and we hope every state will embrace workplace equality for all.”
In a follow-up interview, Rep. Todd told BuzzFeed News that Apple did not explicitly ask her to change the name of the bill, but she maintained that the purpose of the company's call in October was to express concern with the name of the bill and show the company did not want her to name it after Cook. She said that when Apple's director of government affairs contacted her last month, he exhibited “concern about Apple being drawn into a controversial issue,” and indicated Apple “doesn’t want to get engaged in a political fight."
“When I said, ‘Am I in trouble,’ he said, ‘A little bit,’” Todd recalled. “That is not a positive statement when somebody says you’re in a little bit of trouble. It scared me to death. I don’t want to take on Apple." She said she offered to change the name of the bill because she understood the company's interests in avoiding a political issue. Asked whether she thought the call was made to show the company's concern with the name of the bill in specific, Rep. Todd confirmed, “Yeah," adding, "I’m a little hesitant to comment on this, because every time I do, I get a call from Apple.”
BuzzFeed News had contacted Apple on Nov. 26, five days before publication, asking if the company disputed Todd's account of the situation or could provide comment; Apple confirmed that same day it was looking into the situation but would not comment on the record. Rep. Todd said Apple contacted her that day to discuss the matter. BuzzFeed contacted Apple again Monday morning, but Apple did not provide a comment until after this article was published.