Garden State Equality withdraws LGBT organization honor awards for AT&T, KPMG and Pfizer

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GSE 2010 making history sign

GSE 2010 making history signGSE stands by its sister organization, the Tennessee Equality Project.

Due to the recent antigay lobbying efforts by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Garden State Equality withdrew its honor awards for AT&T, KPMG and Pfizer. All three national corporations have members on the Tennessee chamber’s board. GSE says that all three companies were told about the lobbying and were aware of it. Garden State Equality says it stands by the Tennessee Equality Project, which lobbied on behalf of the gay community to stop passage of the antigay legislation in Tennessee.

 

Steven Goldstein says,

Steven Goldstein: “No company on a board of directors fighting against LGBT civil rights merits honors from Garden State Equality.”

On Friday, Garden State Equality’s board voted to withdraw its honors of the three national corporations. AT&T, KPMG and Pfizer representatives all serve on the board of directors of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry. That group has lobbied for a bill to roll back legal protections for LGBT people in Tennessee. The bill has passed both houses of the Tennessee state legislature and is now before Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

 

Garden State Equality learned of the three companies’ role on May 20, thanks to outstanding reporting by John Aravosis and Joe Sudbay at Americablog. On Friday afternoon, Garden State Equality’s executive committee voted unanimously not to honor AT&T, KPMG and Pfizer. All three were previously slated to be among the honorees at Garden State Equality’s annual Legends Dinner on June 25, 2011, at the Jersey City Hyatt Regency.

Legends, at which Garden State Equality honors corporations, legislators and individual activists for their contributions to LGBT equality, is a black-tie dinner event featuring stars from Hollywood, Broadway and politics. An estimated 800 guests will attend Legends 2011 later this month.

 

“We hope organizations across America will follow Garden State Equality’s lead with regard to companies on the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry,” said Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project.

“We thank Garden State Equality for standing by us in Tennessee and showing true national leadership,” said Chris Sanders, Nashville Committee Chair of the Tennessee Equality Project. “We hope organizations across America will follow Garden State Equality’s lead with regard to companies on the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry.”

 

“AT&T, KPMG and Pfizer don’t have to remind us that their internal workplace policies are outstanding or that they have received several awards for corporate equality and diversity. That’s why we had voted to honor them,” said Steven Goldstein, chair of GSE. “Their LGBT employee groups are fantastic. But notwithstanding a company’s internal policies, no company on a board of directors fighting against LGBT civil rights merits honors from Garden State Equality or any other pro-equality organization.

“You cannot separate workplace policies from greater social responsibility. Laws that cover workplace discrimination directly affect treatment in the company workplace. You cannot boast about being a great company for LGBT equality on 29 days a month, but then work against LGBT equality on the 30th day and expect our appreciation. Equality is an everyday value.”

After seeing the story on Americablog on Friday, Goldstein called Sanders at the Tennessee Equality Project. Sanders pointed out that four Nashville council members sent a letter about the bill to every company serving on the Chamber’s board of directors, including to AT&T, KPMG and Pfizer, on April 29, 2011. In the letter, the four members of the Metro Council asked the companies to renounce the chamber’s support of the bill.

A copy of the letter is at http://www.tennessean.com/assets/pdf/DN173731429.PDF on the Web.

Goldstein then spoke with Jamie R. Hollin, one of the four Metro Council members who signed the April 29 letter. “When you serve on a board of directors, you’re deemed to know about a board’s action,” Hollin said. “But beyond that, it’s abundantly clear that the companies knew, because we mailed or e-mailed a letter to everyone on the board. And this has been in the Tennessee press. To this day, the only company on the chamber’s board who has told the governor to veto the bill is Alcoa. Alcoa has acted responsibly and should be celebrated for its position.

“When you make choices, there must be consequences for your choices,” Hollin said. “The credibility of the board member companies is on the line. Either they support equality for everyone or they don’t. You can’t have it both ways.”

Even after receiving the letter from the four Metro Council members, none of the aforementioned companies serving on the chamber’s board have resigned from the chamber.

The law in Tenessee would nullify local county and municipal laws that protect the LGBT community from discrimination, including a Nashville law enacted last month. Secondly, it would bar all counties and municipalities in Tennessee from enacting future laws protecting the LGBT community from discrimination. And thirdly, the bill is a direct assault on transgender people in Tennessee. The bill redefines “sex” in the Tennessee code to include only the gender designated on a birth certificate. But Tennessee does not allow a change of gender designation on birth certificates for transgender people.

AT&T and KPMG have issued statements on the bill, but only after Americablog broke the story nationally. In New Jersey, GSE finds both companies’ statements to be tepid. Neither AT&T nor KPMG publicly called on the Governor to veto the bill. Nor has Pfizer. And none of the three companies has resigned from the Tenessee Chamber group.

As reported on May 4 in Out & About, Tennessee’s LGBT newspaper, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry issued a statement defending its support of the anti-LGBT bill because the chamber believes employment standards “should be consistent across the state.”

Goldstein says that is preposterous, because the chamber could call for legislation to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity across Tennessee. According to Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project–and as reported in the Tennessee media–the purpose of the bill was clear from the start. It was introduced in the state legislature in response to the proposed Nashville ordinance, now law, requiring city contractors to pledge not to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Garden State Equality vetted nominations for its corporate honorees before the anti-LGBT bill in Tennessee came to light, says Goldstein. GSE’s decision to withdraw honors for AT&T, KPMG and Pfizer is consistent with the criteria the organization had established for honoring companies, which go beyond equality and diversity at a company’s own workplace and considers the extent of each company’s commitment to greater social responsibility.

GSE 2010 making history signGSE stands by its sister organization, the Tennessee Equality Project.

Due to the recent antigay lobbying efforts by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Garden State Equality withdrew its honor awards for AT&T, KPMG and Pfizer. All three national corporations have members on the Tennessee chamber’s board. GSE says that all three companies were told about the lobbying and were aware of it. Garden State Equality says it stands by the Tennessee Equality Project, which lobbied on behalf of the gay community to stop passage of the antigay legislation in Tennessee.