As Amazon prepared Wednesday to kick off Pride Month at its Seattle headquarters, a group of people holding transgender pride flags dropped to the ground.
The individuals — most of whom identified themselves as Amazon employees — were staging a “die-in” to protest Amazon’s decision to offer books on its platform that activists say are transphobic, like “Desist, Detrans & Detox: Getting Your Child Out of the Gender Cult” and “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters.”
The books, activists say, are prominently displayed on Amazon’s website, particularly when users search for LGBTQ+ titles. “Irreversible Damage” is listed as a bestseller on Amazon’s digital bookshelf for LGBTQ+ studies.
Amazon says the books do not violate its content policy. “As a company, we believe strongly in diversity, equity, and inclusion. 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,” a spokesperson said. “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.”
At the cue of a siren, activists lay down in front of the stage off Seventh Avenue, underneath a pride flag hung between two buildings on Amazon’s main Seattle campus, interrupting the beginning of a speech from the leaders of Glamazon, Amazon’s affinity group for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Amazon did not continue its planned event following the “die-in.”
The protest was a continuation of a year-old battle between Amazon employees and executives. In April 2021, dozens of workers backed an internal complaint arguing “Irreversible Damage” violated the company’s policy against selling books that “frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness,” according to images of the complaint and responses viewed by The Seattle Times.
Amazon said at the time that it would not stop selling the title. About 500 workers have now signed on to a petition started in April calling on the company again to stop selling “Irreversible Damage” and other titles the activists consider transphobic.
The petition also asks Amazon to establish a workers oversight board to reject and reclassify content while communicating “openly about decisions and justifications.” The board would include, and advocate for, workers from marginalized communities.
“By continuing to sell and promote anti-trans books and repeating the rhetoric of the anti-trans hate movement, Amazon upper management has allowed the store that we build and operate to be complicit in this hate movement,” the petition reads.
“Amazon’s continued lack of action on hate leaves the door open to platforming even more hate and further abuse,” it continues. “In response, we are organizing a worker-led movement to stop hate at Amazon.”
The organizers of the “die-in” and the petition say they don’t want to ban the books entirely but rather want Amazon, as a public company, to take a stand against what they consider hate speech.
“We believe in free speech. We believe in a free marketplace of ideas,” one speaker told their “fellow Amazon workers” at the protest. “We know that some content we will find disagreeable, but we draw a line against hate speech.
“We draw a line at content that aids and encourages the psychological abuse of transgender children,” continued the speaker, who, like other protesters identifying themselves as Amazon employees, asked that their name not be published to protect their job.
In February 2021, Amazon received a letter from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and other Republican lawmakers accusing the company of censoring books after it removed a controversial title “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment” by conservative author Ryan Anderson. Amazon, the senators wrote, “has unabashedly wielded its outsized market share to silence an important voice.”
Since then, Amazon’s policies haven’t changed, but its enforcement has, one of the event’s organizers said before Wednesday’s protest.
The organizer, who said she has spent roughly 10 years working in Amazon’s worldwide consumer division, transitioned during her tenure at the company and said she has felt supported by her team and organization. But Amazon’s dismissal of calls to remove the books has had a “painful” impact that has left her questioning how long she can stay.
Already, many of the employees who led the initial call to action have left the company, she said.
“It came to a point several months ago where a lot of us were like, ‘We have to do something … or we have to quit and get out of here,’ ” she said. “But the reason I stay right now, and the reason many of us are staying, is because we feel as though this struggle is worth it.”
The protest marked the first official event for No Hate At Amazon, a new worker-led group that is calling on Amazon leadership to “reject hate.” The group did not disclose how many members it had and specified that it was separate from the company affinity group Glamazon.
Earlier this year, Seattle Pride removed Amazon as a sponsor, citing financial support for lawmakers, organizations and legislation that do not support the LGBTQ+ community. Krystal Marx, Seattle Pride executive director, said at the time it felt as if Amazon was trying to buy the event with a $100,000 donation offer and a request to call the annual celebration Seattle Pride Parade Presented by Amazon.
Amazon said at the time it “has long supported Seattle Pride because we believe that the rights of LGBTQ+ people must be protected.”
Outside Amazon’s headquarters Wednesday, the group wrapped their pink, blue and white flags tightly around themselves and marched from Amazon’s Doppler building to Denny Park, chanting: “When trans rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”
Amazon, the organizer said, has blood on its hands for harm caused to transgender youth. As employees, she said, “we help maintain the infrastructure in one way or another that keeps this machine rolling, that keeps producing this hate content.”