Anti-gay companies have become a dwindling minority among those in the U.S. The greater part have adopted gender neutrality and equality in their human resource policies and general conduct of business. This trend is popularly indicated by the great leap forward made by J.C.Penny in its defense of Ellen DeGeneres now serving as company spokesperson. And who can resist the fun appeal of Kraft Nabisco’s rainbow-striped Oreo?
Kaiser Health News reports that 52% of all companies nationwide offered benefits to same-sex couples in 2011. This paints a stark contrast to where we stood in 1982, when The Village Voice became the first company in U.S. history to offer such a thing. One of the more notable companies to make this move is Microsoft, the first Fortune 500 company ever to offer benefits to gay couples.
Recent measures show 58% of all Fortune 500 companies currently give benefits to same-sex couples. Much of the progress has been made in seemingly more “progressive” industries such as technology and medicine, with 96% of pharmaceutical companies offering same-sex benefits. Industries such as machinery and heavy equipment manufacturers are at a paltry 18%.
Even with mainstream business “on board with equality,” segments of U.S. businesses and private interests continue to follow openly anti-gay agendas. Take the recent example of Chick-fil-A (not even among the Fortune 1000) and its top brass.
In a recent interview on the Ken Coleman Show, Chick-fil-A President and COO Dan Cathy stated, “We’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.”
ExxonMobil, the largest of the Fortune 500, still refuses to offer benefits to same-sex couples. According to Tumblr blog Pink Panthers, a gay advocacy blog, ExxonMobil not only refuses to give benefits, but also refuses to pass resolutions for in-company policies against discrimination based on orientation or gender identification.
Wal-Mart, our nation’s largest retailer, refuses to offer same-sex benefits except where required by state law, and continues in its refusal to put LGBT book titles in their stores.
Domino’s Pizza, Dish Network, Cinemark, and CBRL Group Inc. (owners of the Cracker Barrel chain of restaurants) also are among the visibly anti-gay company ranks. CBRL seems the most aggressively homophobic, adopting stands much like those of Chick-fil-A. CBRL’s policies at one point even banned “seemingly gay” employees from working for them, which resulted in the firing of 17 employees immediately after the creation of that policy in the early 90’s. This anti-gay policy was eliminated in 2002, but CBRL has still made little progress in becoming a gay-accepting company.
Many companies’ business interests and civic consciousness clash in very public ways above and beyond human resource management. In July of 2010, Target made a PR blunder in the form of a $150,000 contribution to a notoriously “traditional family” politician, Tom Emmer of Minnesota. Gregg Steinhafel, Target’s CEO, was quick to defend the otherwise gay-friendly retail giant. He said their contribution was a business-based decision and not a statement against the gay community. In spite of his defense of the move, growing public backlash over the donation forced Steinhafel to issue a statement in August of the same year apologizing for the impact the decision had.
Hollywood doesn’t escape the debate either. In an interview in March 2012 with Piers Morgan, Kirk Cameron caused quite a stir when he called homosexuality, “unnatural, detrimental and ultimately destructive to foundations of civilization.” When Piers pressed the issue, asking what Cameron would do if one of his own children came out of the closet, Cameron went on about each person having their own moral groundwork from which they operate, seemingly bypassing any real answer on what would really happen if one of his own kids came out to him.
Who can forget when even disco-diva Donna Summer made her infamous “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” comment on stage in 1983. She was accused of going on to say that AIDS was God’s way of punishing homosexuals for their sins. Though the born-again disco diva denied allegations that she said such things, the stigma surrounding those alleged gay-bashing comments continued to dog her. Other celebrities in the spotlight of intolerance notably have included Mel Gibson, Victoria Jackson, and Chuck Norris.
Plenty of individuals and leaders in all walks of American life still subscribe to the notion of marriage as “one man, one woman”. Today however, the public stand against equal protection under the law, marriage equality and equal benefits is more likely to be evaluated on the merits of legal issues, rather than on the basis of prejudiced business subcultures. That’s some hope for continued progress in the arena of gay equality.