Many corporations in the U.S. are not as LGBTQ-friendly as we are led to believe
Here we are just past the middle of June, and it’s time for yet another annual roll of shame spotlighting Fortune 500 companies that burnish their images with Pride colors while actively funding anti-LGBTQ politicians and programs. People are shocked every year to learn companies that position themselves as hyper-LGBTQ-friendly fund anti-LGBTQ activities on the downlow.
Activists write stories every year, but nothing seems to change.
I wouldn’t be writing another one, except I want to lay out how LGBTQ advocacy organizations have allowed this to happen, and why strategies that enable hidden anti-LGBTQ corporate practices might have been a good idea once, but need updating now.
But first, that roll of shame
- Shame on Walmart
This month, Walmart advertises heavily to LGBTQ customers in a “Pride & Joy” section where people can buy products with the assurance that Walmart will donate to a pro-LGBTQ agency like GLAAD.
“Spark love and extinguish hate,” proclaims the page. “No matter if you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning, we welcome everyone to be their authentic selves—today and every day.”
What Walmart is doing on the downlow?
Since 2019, according to original reporting in popular.info, Walmart has donated nearly half a million dollars to federal politicians who fight against LGBTQ equality, including 121 who get a zero rating from HRC. (More on HRC’s role in a moment, because it’s critical to this discussion).
Worse, Walmart donates to anti-LGBTQ state legislators making life hell for transgender people. Walmart donated to 19 legislators in Arkansas who helped pass the infamous state law that criminalizes gender-affirming health care for trans youth.
Rather than welcoming people to “be their authentic selves,” Walmart is financially supporting criminalizing the doctors and families of youth who are busy BEING their authentic selves. And they didn’t stop in their home state of Arkansas. They also funded extremist anti-LGBTQ politicians in North Carolina and Texas.
- Shame on CVS Health
CVS loudly trumpets its progressive views about LGBTQ inclusion on its website and social media, but its downlow actions are arguably worse than Walmart’s. CVS runs a corporate PAC that is currently supporting the sponsors of anti-trans legislation in Texas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. These state laws would, as in Arkansas, criminalize gender affirming health care for trans youth.
In Texas, CVS even supported the sponsors of SB1646 that would amend state child abuse laws to criminalize parents if they seek gender-affirming care for their trans children. These are remarkable anti-LGBTQ stands for a secular health-care company, but they’re astounding coming from a company that positions itself as LGBTQ friendly.
- Shame on Comcast
Comcast talks a good game, and they ostentatiously fly the Rainbow every June. Hell, my cable bill included rainbow smiley faces last year.
Comcast Vice President Yvette Miley proclaims on the corporate website that, “Some people may think the LGBTQ rights journey is done and the struggle is over, but it isn’t. Our job is to continuously educate.”
Sounds good, right?
The downlow is much uglier. Comcast is one of the biggest corporate contributors to anti-LGBTQ politicians in the U.S., outspending on the federal level every other corporation on this year’s roll of shame. Plus, like Walmart and CVS, Comcast is giving big money to state lawmakers attacking transgender people.
You’d think Miley might have mentioned on the corporate website that her colleagues funding anti-trans initiatives count among those most in need of educating.
Here’s that top 25 anti-LGBTQ roll of shame
Each of these corporations leverages the rainbow and other Pride iconography every June. Some of them do so at other times of the year as well. But together, they fund anti-LGBTQ politicians and programs to the tunes of tens-of-millions of dollars, either directly or through PACs. It’s time to pressure them to put their money where they say their values are. The graph is courtesy of popular.info
LGBTQ advocacy groups enable corporate downlow behavior
The Human Rights Campaign calls itself the “largest LGBTQ advocacy group and LGBTQ political lobbying organization in the United States.” They do excellent work pushing for equality legislation and partnering with other agencies like Lambda Legal and GLAAD. HRC maintains a Corporate Equality Index that acts as the gold standard for corporations seeking to be seen as LGBTQ inclusive.
Corporations covet the HRC seal of approval and often work hand in hand with HRC to earn a 100% rating in the index.
It’s time for the other shoe to drop. Each of those top 25 members of the corporate roll of shame has earned an HRC 100% rating. How can that be? HRC does not take political donations into consideration when producing the Corporate Equality List, which means corporations can mislead the public. They can present their pro-LGBTQ credentials while hurting LGBTQ people on the downlow.
HRC say they don’t intend to mislead with the Equality Index, which they originally crafted to encourage better working environments for LGBTQ employees. That’s important work, especially given recent data that show most LGBTQ workers in the U.S. hide their identity on the job because they realistically fear official or unofficial mistreatment.
But what might have been the right balance 20 years ago or even 10 years ago feels more than a little out of date today. After all, most Fortune 500 HR departments don’t need help with LGBTQ equality issues. In order to attract the highly qualified managers they crave, they must recruit from a cadre of young university graduates already inculcated with equality values. Fortune 500 companies are inclusive because they WANT to be, because that reality now suits their business model.
That’s not to say HRC isn’t helpful positioning certain policies and holding out the Equality Index carrot to make things better, but … there comes a point of diminishing returns.
Since most LGBTQ workplace discrimination happens in small companies that don’t care about the Index, and since those companies employ the bulk of American workers, an Equality Index that focuses on minor improvements still needed in corporate HR doesn’t seem … very pressing.
It’s time to really challenge corporations
I’m barely addressing Rainbow Capitalism in the argument. I don’t like it, personally. I don’t like being marketed to by a Fortune 500 company just because I’m gay. But that’s another story.
I hear the arguments in favor of corporations flying Pride colors during June, even if they DO profit off it. I understand the argument that displaying Pride colors normalizes LGBTQ acceptance, and that rigid purity tests interfere with that.
I understand the arguments that trying to restrict corporate giving won’t work, that corporations will do what’s in their best interests, that asking them to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ politicians is a non starter.
I just don’t buy those arguments. I believe they’re outdated.
We as LGBTQ activists can do better, and Fortune 500 companies can do better. I argue that flying our colors while actively funding people and programs working to hurt us does more to normalize homophobia than it does to normalize acceptance.
It tells people that demanding unequivocal LGBTQ acceptance is a step too far. It says working to hurt LGBTQ people is an ordinary activity that should not shock the conscience. It says we should overlook that Walmart, CVS and so many other corporations work to hurt LGBTQ people, because equality itself is still an open question worthy of serious debate.
We can do better than that! We CAN pressure corporations to behave more morally, and we can start by taking corporate political behavior into consideration when rating equality compliance. These top 25 roll of shame members must not have 100% ratings on the Corporate Equality Index.
What do you say, HRC? Time for an update?
As for the corporations, all of us LGBTQ people and allies need to get busy demanding they take our colors down. Let the pressure start there.
This article originally appeared at Medium.com. Here is a link.