People often say to put your money where your mouth is. In the case of blatant discrimination, like what is legal in Indiana now, I’m inclined to do just that. More and more high profile figures (including mayors of Connecticut and Washington as well as NASCAR itself) are coming out against the state of Indiana and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law last Thursday by Republican governor, Michael Pence.
In 2002, the Human Rights Campaign came out with its Corporate Equality Index. On the surface, this national benchmarking tool sought to recognize those companies with exemplary policies and practices for LGBT employees. In my opinion, this tool is more of a double edged sword than anything. On one hand, we celebrate the companies who score 100 and recognize that they deserve gay people’s money for being on the right side of history. The first companies to score 100 on the pilot index included Apple, Intel, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Nike.
The published Index also does a fantastic job of publicly shaming via sharing the companies with a big fat zero score. In 2002, the zero scores included Lockheed Martin and Cracker Barrel. Even in the 2014 Index, we see the likes of Berkshire Hathaway with a score of zero, and ExxonMobil with a score of -25. Yeah, you read that right – negative.
Perhaps I am spoiled because I was born and raised in California, a state that prohibits discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.
I completely agree that if a company cannot treat its employees and customers with common decency and acknowledge their human and civil rights, they do not deserve my money. The business has taken an unpopular and just plain wrong stance, and they should be punished for it by suffering dwindling profits and hopefully, ultimate closure and corporate death.
Here’s the other side of that sword, when the other shoe falls: if gay people don’t patronize stores, if those stores “lose the gay dollar,” then employees who work there don’t feel supported or appreciated for who they are and what they do. How would you feel if you worked at a place that denied people their most basic human rights, and you knew your LGBT friends and allies would not shop where you worked? Because where you work can often be so intertwined with your individual identity, it can begin to feel like they don’t support you, as a person. That’s an awful feeling, and it can make one feel awfully alone, when all you are trying to do is fulfill your life’s purpose, use what God gave you for talent, and make a living.
Here’s where I pause, though.
I heard the argument ages ago, and it has to do with perception of brotherhood and sisterhood. If we see certain companies coming out in support of human and civil rights for LGBT employees, celebrating those companies by spending our money at their establishment is simply no-brainer good business. It’s socially responsible. We see Gayglers (from Google); Gays, Lesbians, and Everyone Else (GLEE) at my employer in Sydney; Out Professional Employee Network (OPEN) at my current employer in San Francisco, GLOBE, GLAMEX, and all those other fabulous acronyms that are synonyms for LGBT. Employee Resource Groups are the new “college” – all employees expect to see it on a corporate profile/website to ensure LGBT employees feel supported, to prevent discrimination and foster inclusion. Quote this and that survey and that research and study over there, and we all know happy employees equal more profits. The LGBT market represents trillions of dollars in whatever census, and some made-up statistic is the new black. Yadda yadda yadda.
God forbid a gay person goes into Chick Fil A and spends money on a chicken burger, while a closeted, repressed employee recognizes him from the club the other night. Both of them are social pariahs, betraying the entire LGBT community by giving their money to and earning their income from a company who deserves to die for its stance against LGBT people. Anyone who works at those companies like Chick Fil A, Berkshire Hathaway, or ExxonMobil and who may happen to be gay and terrified of coming out, will see gay people not supporting their primary money-earning activity. It’s already a punch in the gut when your own employer doesn’t recognize you as a whole person with rights, but when the community turns on you too, that’s the knockout.
Gay people need to eat and pay for medical attention too; our blood runs just as red and thick. For some LGBT people, working part time at a Chick Fil A barely pays the rent, which they need to do because they don’t live at home anymore. Maybe their parents kicked them out on the street when they looked to them for support and acceptance.
There can be a negative branding impact if your company does not support human and civil and LGBT rights. Your competitors are behind the pro-LGBT initiatives. Your two largest stakeholders, your employees should reflect the market they serve, and your community should feel safe because they see members of their community working at a place of business. They are upright, tax paying citizens, providing for their alternative, modern family, protecting the people they love, like everybody else. Their very way of life depends on the presence of commerce that acknowledges basic rights of participants.
Listen up, because with my latest diet, I only have the blood sugar to tell you this once:
I have a dream, that my fellow butch lesbians can go to a car lot and buy the most decked out pickup truck in Indianapolis to take their femme girlfriends to NASCAR or the roller derby, without discrimination against their tattoos and mullets.
I have a dream that the gay men will go to the gym and whale on their pecs in peace, hogging machines too long while they scan Grindr for the hotties next to them on the lat-pull machine. After a gym session, they’ll hit up GNC for supplements and Jamba Juice for a smoothie with protein boost, all while remaining fearless for their own safety.
And like Martin Luther King, Jr.,
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Maybe I don’t have those four little children yet, and maybe sexual orientation and gender identity know no color of skin because they transcend physical attributes and reach people of all races and ethnicities. But I believe some of the best people I know identify as LGBT or support friends and family who identify as LGBT. Their character is so full of content, it cannot be bound by a place of business or state lines.
If you haven’t read it yet, the Bold Italic published an open letter from San Francisco to Indiana that’s worth reading: http://www.thebolditalic.com/articles/7168-an-open-letter-from-san-francisco-to-indiana
I couldn’t agree with the first comment on that letter more, either. Leslie Knope, a fictional character from Pawnee, Indiana, in the show Parks & Recreation, a public official and Indiana-lover in the TV show, would never get behind something like this. In fact, neither would her fictional mustachioed mentor, Ron Swanson. Nick Offerman has canceled an upcoming stop in Indiana for his tour, and is donating proceeds of the one speaking engagement he’s keeping in that state and donating it to none other than HRC. I love his response to Indiana’s “thinly disguised legal discrimination”: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/nick-offerman-cancels-indiana-show
Last night, I saw a large group of people, led by two men carrying a large wooden cross, protesting while marching down Market Street, towards City Hall. The protestors carried signs that said “Teach Acceptance”, a message for Indiana. The irony of our reaction to unacceptable behavior being to accept it is not lost on me. Jesus supposedly hung out with lepers, slaves, and the lowest of the low in society, and he loved them all the same.
So, it is with some hesitation only because of the perceived abandonment of our LGBT brothers and sisters who live and work in Indiana, that I, too, tell Indiana lawmaker Governor Pence to get stuffed. Arkansas governor Hutchinson will announce tomorrow whether it will sign into law a similar RFRA in the wake of Indiana. So go ahead and get stuffed, the pair of ya’s. I support you and your families, my LGBT brothers and sisters in those states, but your lawmakers are not doing you justice. Stand up and be counted. Fight back. They are on the wrong side of history. Do the right thing. Or get the hell out of there while you still can, and come to California. Trust me, it’s better here all around.