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Winning Gay Rights With the Help of Wal-Mart August 26, 2006

Posted by newsfittopost in companies & corporations, lgbt Issues, non-discrimination laws.

The white and conservative face of Wal-Mart is attempting to give itself a make-over, reaching out to diverse groups through both corporate donations and company policies. It’s most recent outreach to the gay and lesbian community is creating a bit of a stir among social conservatives, but Wal-Mart is only one of many global companies that have realized the importance of standing up for equality.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 86 percent of Fortune 500 companies have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and 253 of the 500 companies also offer domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples. These numbers are particularly impressive considering only 34 percent of states have non-discrimination protections for gay and lesbian people, and even fewer offer any kind of protections for same-sex couples.

There are several reasons for American companies’ progressive policies towards gay and lesbian issues:

  • Smart business decision: According to some estimates, gay and lesbian consumers spend about $514 billion a year. Studies have shown that gay and lesbian people react more favorably to products that are advertised or marketed specifically to gays and lesbians, and that gay and lesbian people are more likely to support companies or businesses that support gay and lesbian rights.
  • Obtain the best and the brightest: When presented with a choice, gay and lesbian people are much more likely to work for companies that protect them with non-discrimination policies and domestic partner benefits. Just recently, the University of Wisconsin-Madison lost one of its most “promising” researchers (who brought in $3.4 million in grants) because the university does not offer domestic partner benefits.
  • Looking to the future: Many companies are beginning to realize that the gay and lesbian movement truly is a civil rights movement and that future generations will judge companies based on their support. Ford Motor Company has been haunted by its anti-Semitic and prejudice-filled past, and like other gay and lesbian supportive companies, it is making sure it does not make the same mistake again.

Although American companies are encouraging progressive social policies, there is no evidence that it influences public opinion on gay and lesbian issues. Where it has the potential to make an impact, however, is with conservative business owners who increasingly realize the importance of respecting gay and lesbian consumers. Business owners and chambers of commerce from Arizona to South Carolina have opposed anti-marriage equality amendments because of its potential impact on the economy.

Unfortunately, companies like Wal-Mart have been accused of broadening its appeal to more progressive consumers by embracing social issues, while ignoring other important problems that would cost the company more money. Nelson Lichtenstein of the University of California – Santa Barbara:

It’s easier to open their arms to the enormously divergent aspects of American cultural lifestyle. It’s cheaper and easier than trying to satisfy their critics who are looking at their wage and health-benefit policies.

This is a tremendous draw-back to some companies’ support of gay and lesbian issues, so it is important to consider a wide-range of issues before supporting large businesses.

When emotional pleas don’t work, the almighty dollar can sometimes change the opinions of companies and business owners. They may not be standing up for equality for the right reasons, but when you are fighting for equal rights, you take what you can get.