Uphold’s HQ plans move, but where is it now?

Uphold CEO Anthony Watson

The top executive of an online financial services firm says he is moving the headquarters from Charleston to California because of gender legislation filed in Columbia, but it’s unclear whether any jobs will be affected or even where the corporate office is located.

Anthony Watson, CEO of Uphold Inc., announced the move out of South Carolina in a blog post Tuesday. It came in response to state Sen. Lee Bright’s recent bill that would block local governments from passing ordinances protecting the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community from discrimination.

“As such, we feel compelled to take action to oppose the discrimination being proposed in South Carolina and protect our LGBT employees,” wrote Watson, who said he is gay. “Today, Uphold has taken the difficult decision to move its U.S. corporate Headquarters from Charleston, South Carolina to Los Angeles, California.

“We will stand firm in our commitment to fairness, equality and inclusion and our strong conviction that we can make a difference by living our core values,” he continued. “It’s the right thing to do for our members, employees, partners and the communities in which we live and work.”

Uphold said it’s been based in Charleston since it was founded in 2014, but its website contains no address or telephone number for a South Carolina office. The website does disclose the physical addresses for its other locations in San Francisco, London, Shanghai and Portugal.

A representative for Uphold said the company would respond “shortly” to questions about the Charleston headquarters Tuesday. Instead, Uphold sent a written statement from Watson about the Bright bill.

“When states even entertain the idea discriminating against entire groups of people is in any way permissible, it is bad for business and bad for employees,” Watson said.

The spokesperson did not respond to a follow-up message seeking additional comment.

Watson, the former chief information officer at Nike Inc., does not work out of the Charleston headquarters, at least not on a full-time basis. According to his biography on the company’s website, he “is based in London, UK, but spends the majority of his time on the West Coast of the USA when not traveling extensively on business.”

None of the key executives highlighted on the Uphold website is based in Charleston, according to their LinkedIn profiles. The company does not have a business license with the city of Charleston. The Charleston Digital Corridor said Tuesday it has “had no contact” with Uphold.

The company was started as a virtual currency business called Bitreserve by Internet entrepreneur and CNET founder Halsey Minor, who could not be reached for comment. It was registered in South Carolina in 2014 as Bitreserve HQ Inc. It changed its name last year to Uphold HQ Inc., according to a filing with the S.C. Secretary of State Office. Its registered agent is the Columbia office of Corporation Services Co., which many companies hire to file their paperwork when setting up new businesses.

While still operating as Bitreserve, the company also was registered in the Cayman Islands, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Why Uphold picked Charleston for its corporate headquarters is unclear.

As for Bright’s bill, lawmakers will hold their first hearing about it Wednesday in Columbia. Several members of the transgender community and their supporters are expected to testify.

“We want to try and have everybody be heard so we may have to call back in Thursday afternoon for more testimony,” Bright said.

Bright filed the bill last week. It is similar to the controversial North Carolina law that prevents local governments from passing laws expanding the use of gender-designated public restrooms to transgender people.

The measure requires that transgender people use bathrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates, not how they may identify themselves.

Bright, R-Roebuck, stressed that the measure is in the name of public safety, unrelated to differing bills and laws in other states concerning religious liberty.

Like North Carolina’s law, Bright’s bill directs South Carolina’s public schools, public universities and government agencies to require bathrooms or locker rooms be designated for use only by people based on their biological sex.

Bright added that government entities could provide single-stall bathrooms for either gender. But multi-stall restrooms would remain exclusive for the gender matching the person’s birth certificate. South Carolina is among a majority of states that allow a person who has had a sex change to obtain a new birth certificate. Private businesses can adopt their own bathroom policies.

Gov. Nikki Haley has said the measure is not needed in South Carolina.

Gavin Jackson contributed to this report.