On Friday, the Georgia legislature easily passed an explicitly anti-gay “religious liberty” bill designed to let businesses refuse to serve same-sex couples if doing so might somehow violate their religious beliefs. The measure will also partially nullify local LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances. Plenty of Georgia companies, including Delta, Coca-Cola, and Home Depot, have implored the legislature to table the bill, insisting it will hurt their ability to attract employees and customers. But the Republican-dominated legislature easily passed the measure, and after one more House vote, it appears to be destined for the governor’s signature.
For one Georgia company, Friday’s vote was the last straw. 373k, a Decatur-based telecom startup with about 20 employees, decided on Friday to relocate to Nevada—a direct response to the bill’s looming passage. On Sunday, I spoke with 373k’s founder and senior IP engineer, Kelvin Williams, about his decision to leave the state and the difficulties of balancing profit and conscience.
How did the “religious liberty” bill first come onto your radar?
A friend of mine showed it to me. I tend to ignore everything that happens down at the capital. We’re in a red state. Everything they do is generally oppressive. I just try to ignore it, but a friend of mine sent me a link to the debate and said, hey, you’ve got to watch this. I spent the entire day watching all the arguments, the debates going back and forth on it. Finally, I watched the vote come in. I just sat there in disbelief. And that’s when I shot out the tweet that we’re leaving.
Why did this particular bill push you to relocate?
Two reasons. No. 1: If we stayed, we would be funding Georgia’s hate. For every dollar that we make, the state of Georgia gets some. As a black, gay male, I don’t feel good funding hate. I’ve never done it, and I’m not going to start now. We’re gonna make it known that we don’t appreciate it. We’re leaving and taking our tax dollars with us.
No. 2: Our business is pretty much a family—a diverse family. I have single moms working for me who could now potentially be discriminated against. [Note: The broad language of the bill could also legalize discrimination against single parents and unmarried couples.] Muslims, Buddhists, atheists—you name it, I’ve got them working here. Including Christians who were just as outraged about this bill as the rest of the team. I have to think about all of them as we grow and attract new talent—and I don’t think we’re going to be able to attract new talent if this bill becomes law. Sometimes that talent is not all white, heterosexual Christians. I want to make sure that wherever we’re headquartered is somewhere that people would actually want to come work for.
Have you noticed the climate in your state turning increasingly hostile toward gays?
I live in Atlanta, and we tend to think there’s Atlanta, and then there’s Georgia. They’re two distinctly different places. For me in Atlanta, the places that I go, the restaurants I go, where I go to get my hair cut—I’m not worried about discrimination. But when I think about people just 30 minutes outside of Atlanta who are gay, that’s when I really get infuriated. That’s who I’m worried about. Once you get out there, you’re in the Bible belt. There will be a lot of discrimination going on out there. This bill gives people a reason to hate.
How did you settle on Nevada for your new headquarters?
We went state-by-state trying to find out which states are best for business. We thought it’d be really dumb for us to move out of our own oppressive state right into another. So every single state we looked at, we checked—what’s their stance on LGBT rights? The way a state treats their LGBT residents is indicative of how they treat everybody. That’s how we ended up with Nevada.
Will you take your employees with you?
Not all of them. We can’t pull completely out of Georgia, because we would be upsetting some homes. We also have telecom facilities we can’t just yank. We will still have people here in Georgia just like we have people in California, Morocco, Indonesia, and South Carolina. We will still have a presence in Georgia. It’s just that we won’t conduct our business from Georgia. Our headquarters will be in Nevada.
Do you think your relocation will inspire other Georgia-based companies to do the same?
We hope—but we understand that big Georgia corporations like Delta and Coca-Cola can’t just up and move. They’re not as nimble as we are. But they can come out publicly and say, this is bullshit, Georgia. And because Republicans love money, hopefully when those big companies come out and say something, that will knock some sense into them. Republicans need to see that most companies just won’t tolerate this crap.