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Max Levchin Leads Tech Industry Push for Anti-Discrimination Laws

Tech CEOs and venture capitalists are signing a letter calling for states to protect LGBT citizens and hinting they may put economic weight behind their words.

Asa Mathat

A rapidly expanding list of Silicon Valley CEOs, venture capitalists and leaders have signed a joint statement demanding states considering so-called religious freedom legislation to also pass laws banning discrimination against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

The tech industry’s latest actions to protest the law comes after CEO Marc Benioff cancelled a big industry conference in Indiana to fight against a bill that critics fear is so broadly worded that it opens the door to allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBT people on the basis of religious freedom.

The latest effort is led by Max Levchin, the former CTO of PayPal and current chairman of Yelp and a director at Yahoo. In a statement signed by several tech executives — including Benioff as well as the CEOs of Twitter, Square, eBay, Airbnb, LinkedIn and a senior executive of Cisco Systems — they called for state legislatures around the U.S. to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in their existing civil rights laws. They also called for the passage of laws that explicitly forbid discrimination by businesses against anyone.

“Religious freedom, inclusion, and diversity can co-exist and everyone including LGBT people and people of faith should be protected under their states’ civil rights laws,” the statement says. “No person should have to fear losing their job or be denied service or housing because of who they are or whom they love.”

In an interview, Levchin said the “tech community is united in taking a stand against discrimination in any form. … It is important to us as leaders, it is important to our employees, and it is important to our customers.”

He also hinted of further actions to come against states that don’t act on their requests. “I am asking all CEOs to evaluate their relationships and investments in states that do not specifically protect LGBT people from discrimination.”

The issue of LGBT rights and religious freedom laws exploded into national view last week when Indiana’s Gov. Mike Pence signed the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. Pence has defended the law saying it is intended to protect people and business owners who “feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” and said it closely mirrored a similar federal law and state laws passed in several other states.

Benioff, whose company, Salesforce, owns a subsidiary called ExactTarget that employs as many as 3,000 people in the state, ordered the company to cancel future marketing and customer events held in Indiana, and announced plans for a “a slow rolling of economic sanctions against the state of Indiana.”

Other companies followed suit. Indianapolis-based Angie’s List shelved plans for a $40 million expansion that would have added 1,000 jobs. And companies including Oracle, EMC, Amazon and Cloudera pulled out of a technology conference being held in that city in May.

Aside from Levchin and Benioff, here’s a list of those who have signed the statement; more are expected to sign in the coming days.

  • Mark Pincus, Chairman, Zynga
  • Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO, Yelp
  • Jack Dorsey, CEO, Square
  • Dick Costolo, CEO, Twitter
  • Logan Green, CEO, Lyft
  • Brian Chesky, CEO, Airbnb
  • Joe Gebbia, CPO, Airbnb
  • Nathan Blecharczyk, CTO, Airbnb
  • Ron Conway, CEO, Axon JuriMed Group LLC
  • John Donahoe, CEO, eBay
  • Paul Graham, Co-Founder, Y Combinator
  • Rich Barton, Chairman, Zillow Group
  • Chad Hurley, CEO, Mixbit
  • Adora Cheung, CEO, Homejoy
  • Phil Libin, CEO, Evernote
  • Trevor Traina, CEO, IfOnly
  • Nirav Tolia, CEO, NextDoor
  • Dion Lim, CEO, NextLesson
  • Bret Taylor, CEO, Quip
  • Joe Lonsdale, CEO, Formation 8
  • Thomas Layton, Chairman, Elance-odesk
  • Fabio Rosati, CEO, Elance-odesk
  • Dave Morin, CEO, Path
  • Mark Goldstein, Chairman, BackOps
  • Kevin Rose, CEO, North Technologies
  • Yves Behar, CCO, Jawbone
  • Padmasree Warrior, CTSO, Cisco Systems
  • Tony Conrad, CEO,
  • Sunil Paul, CEO, Sidecar
  • Michael Moritz, Chairman, Sequoia Capital
  • Dan Schulman, President, PayPal
  • Devin Wenig, President, eBay Marketplaces
  • Robert Hohman, CEO, Glassdoor
  • Laurene Powell Jobs, Founder and Chair, Emerson Collective
  • Mohan Warrior, CEO, Alphalight
  • David Spector, CIO, Penny Mac
  • Shervin Pishevar, Co-Founder, Sherpa Ventures
  • David Karp, CEO, Tumblr
  • Reid Hoffman, CEO, Linkedin
  • Kevin Ryan, Chairman, Gilt

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