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Amazon employees protest the sale of books they say are anti-trans

Employees affiliated with a group called No Hate at Amazon disrupted a Pride Month event hosted by the company

Amazon headquarters in 2020. (Elaine Thompson/AP)
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A group of Amazon employees on Wednesday disrupted a Pride Month event at the company’s headquarters in Seattle, protesting the company’s continued sale of books they say are anti-trans.

Approximately 30 employees participated in the protest, interrupting Amazon’s annual raising of the pride flag by laying on the ground wrapped in trans flags, according to an employee who attended the event. The participants are members of No Hate at Amazon, which is demanding that the company stop producing and selling books the group says are harmful to transgender youth.

“Amazon does have standing policies against hate speech in its content and technically they say we don’t sell it,” said an organizer with the group, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “But we’ve obviously seen through a number of these books that that’s not the case when it comes to transphobic material.” (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“As a company, we believe strongly in diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Amazon spokesman Brad Glasser. “As a bookseller, we’ve chosen to offer a very broad range of viewpoints, including books that conflict with our company values and corporate positions. We believe that it’s possible to do both – to offer a broad range of viewpoints in our bookstore, and support diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

He added that the company respects its employees’ rights to express themselves.

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The Amazon group is part of a larger movement of tech workers including Google, Twitter and Facebook employees who have organized with a goal of not just improving working conditions, but influencing broader company policies. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, which was founded by two employees who later settled charges of illegal retaliation after Amazon fired them, has continued to pressure the company on its environmental record. And Amazon employees have recently come together in protest of the company’s participation in Project Nimbus, an Israeli government cloud computing contract.

Labor unions have also been making inroads at tech firms like Apple and Amazon, where warehouse workers at a facility in Staten Island voted in favor of joining the Amazon Labor Union, which plans to fight for wage increases and longer rest breaks. The company is contesting the outcome of that election.

In March, the No Hate at Amazon group circulated a petition demanding that Amazon stop selling titles like “Johnny the Walrus” and “Irreversible Damage,” and that the company set up an oversight board that would allow employees to democratically determine what content is appropriate for sale on the site. The organizer said at least 500 people using verified Amazon email addresses have signed that petition, which was presented to company leadership last summer. At the time, some employees quit over the company’s refusal to stop selling these books, NBC News reported.

One participant in Wednesdays’ event, senior software engineer Lina Jodoin said she also quit her job at Amazon this week for the same reason. “As much as it’s about the books being for sale, for me personally, this is also very much about the response that we’ve gotten from leadership as we’ve tried to escalate,” said Jodoin, who worked for Amazon for eight years. “I’m worried that bad actors outside of Amazon … will continue to escalate their harassment of our customers and employees, given that we’ve shown there aren’t repercussions for harassing behavior when it comes to our marketplace.”

LGBTQ rights group GLAAD has also criticized the decision to continue selling the books the activist employees oppose.

Amazon has previously been willing to remove content from its site, pulling a book called “When Harry Became Sally” in March 2021 because it described “LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.”

But more recently, it has declined to remove these books — some of which, like “Irreversible Damage,” the company sells as Kindle editions and others of which, like “Desist, Detrans, & Detox: Getting Your Child Out of the Gender Cult,” it distributes through its direct publishing arm. Amazon has continued to sell and print “Irreversible Damage” even after the American Booksellers Association apologized for promoting it and retail competitor Target removed the book from its website in July.

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Amazon has run afoul of some LGBTQ rights groups ahead of this year’s Pride Month, which began Wednesday. Seattle Pride, the group that organizes the city’s annual pride parade, banned Amazon as a corporate sponsor in March and declined to accept a $100,000 donation because of the company’s ties to certain legislators and organizations. Specifically, the organization cited Amazon’s donations to lawmakers who have voted against anti-discrimination bills and failure to remove anti-gay groups that raise money via its charitable platform, AmazonSmile.

“Amazon has long supported Seattle Pride because we believe that the rights of LGBTQ+ people must be protected,” Amazon’s Glasser said. “We stand together with the LGBTQ+ community, were early and strong supporters of marriage equality, and are working at the U.S. federal and state level on legislation, including supporting passage of the Equality Act. We also work hard to foster an inclusive work environment, including providing resources and benefits for LGBTQ+ employees.”