Robin Witt spent the majority of her life in Florida, most recently working as a contract engineer at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. But after the state legislature passed a spate of laws impacting the LGBTQ+ community, including restrictions on the ability to receive gender-affirming care, Witt quit her job and moved to Chicago.
"I left my entire network behind for my and my partner's safety," said Witt, who is transgender.
She is far from alone. Out Leadership, a New York City-based company that works with businesses to improve organizational diversity, found that nearly 1 in 4 LGBTQ+ workers across the U.S. have moved to a more inclusive city because of recently passed anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Thirty-six percent would consider moving, and nearly one-third said they would take a pay cut to live in a more inclusive place.
Across the U.S., state legislators have introduced more than 520 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, according to the Human Rights Campaign. These laws would restrict the discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in school curriculums, permit religious exemptions to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, and limit transgender people's ability to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity and receive gender-affirming health care.
John "Jack" Lord is a labor and employment lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP in Miami and the leader of the firm's affinity group for LGBTQ+ workers. He knows physicians, nurses and teachers who have left Florida because of laws that strip rights from the LGBTQ+ community.
Jake Kleinmahon, a physician specializing in treating pediatric heart conditions, left Ochsner Hospital for Children in New Orleans and moved to New York after Louisiana lawmakers passed laws restricting LGBTQ+ rights.
Kleinmahon, who is gay, told New Orleans television station WDSU, "In my worst nightmare, I could never imagine a situation where I felt like we were living somewhere in the United States [where] our family was no longer welcome.
"If these discriminatory laws continue," he added, "the state of Louisiana is going to lose talent, they are going to lose skilled professionals, and frankly, I don't think the state can afford to."
Many LGBTQ+ Parents Looking to Move from Florida
After Florida passed a law imposing restrictions on gender-affirming care, Witt said she was unable to renew her prescription for gender-affirming care and her doctor would not return her phone calls. She spoke of the "emotional toll" of "having the government essentially ban my health care."
Other Florida laws have taken aim at schools, such as the Parental Rights in Education Act, also known as the "Don't Say Gay" law. Passed in 2022, the legislation prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity before fourth grade. The law was later expanded through 12th grade.
The Williams Institute, part of the UCLA School of Law, conducted a survey of more than 100 LGBTQ+ parents in Florida and found about 56 percent were considering moving their families out of state, and more than 16 percent had already taken steps to do so.
Previous reports have also shown that anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is influencing some individuals to avoid applying for jobs in certain states.
"We hear from people all the time who are concerned about raising their kids in Florida public schools," said Carlos Guillermo Smith, an outreach coordinator with Equality Florida, a civil rights organization representing Florida's LGBTQ+ community and a former member of the state House of Representatives. Many families are concerned that their LGBTQ+ children "won't find acceptance and inclusion in school and in the community," Smith said.
"Not only is [the law] causing talented workers to leave our state, but it's also blocking our ability to recruit people into positions from out of state," he added.
Companies That Support LGBTQ+ Employees Continue to Do So
The organization Out Leadership conducts an annual business climate survey, assessing states on factors such as legal and nondiscrimination protections, youth and family support, and health access and safety.
The average state score was 63.48 out of 100 in 2023, down from 64.61 last year. Florida's score dropped from 53.43 in 2022 to 50.60 this year, making it 33rd in the ranking.
"Not a single company we work with has been backing off their support for LGBTQ+ policies. That's heartening," said Todd Sears, founder and chief executive officer of Out Leadership, who previously headed up diversity efforts at Credit Suisse and Merrill Lynch. "The policies are out of step with the business community."
Among its membership are major corporations such as Amazon, American Express and Walmart.
Smith added that employee resource groups are "even more important than they were before," as they help employees "feel included and respected." They are also a key way to foster a more inclusive workplace for LGBTQ+ workers.
Lord said one of his firm's biggest goals is the recruitment and retention of LGBTQ+ attorneys and staff. Having such a group helps employees see "there are a lot of people like me," he said.
Lord's firm recently held a retreat for LGBTQ+ attorneys in Chicago, giving them a chance to get to know and help one another, he said.
They also discussed company benefits, such as insurance coverage for fertility treatments.
"DE&I at its heart is about having enough diversity of thought and connection that it actually makes it a wonderful place to work and an even more profitable place to work," Lord said.
Susan Ladika is a freelance writer and editor based in Tampa, Fla.