Buyer's Remorse: Boycotting for Civil Rights

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Eating chicken-fried steak can keep you from marrying your partner or gaining workplace equality. So can buying tennis shoes, shipping a package, and decorating your home.

Chicken fried steak. A big slab of cubed steak, battered and deep-fried, then covered with just the right amount of thick peppered cream gravy. On the side, some home-made mashed potatoes, also slathered with that same gravy, and some green beans, cooked with an unhealthy dose of bacon fat. Add a couple of rolls with butter and you have a meal that will make my husband's cardiologist slap the fork out of his hand.

There are numerous places in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, that serve this glorious, artery-clogging meal. My personal favorite is the Cottage Inn, which I like for three reasons. First, the food is so good that you can hear your arteries harden as you eat it. Second, it's locally owned, and I like to support local businesses over national chains. Third, they treat everyone the same. My favorite waitress won't hesitate to insult you or smack you upside the head with a menu if you give her a hard time -- playfully, of course. Straight or gay, black or white, man or woman, she doesn't discriminate in abusing her customers.

My lesbian neighbor and her BFF, a gay man in his early-30s, prefer the national chain Cracker Barrel. She frequently mentions how much she likes the food and points out that she has never had a bad experience there. For her, any accusations against the chain regarding discrimination against the LGBT community are irrelevant, because she doesn't "care about that kind of stuff".

If I were to tell her that, until recently, Cracker Barrel had a policy stating that restaurant employees must extol "normal heterosexual values" and was again this past year ranked as one of the most least gay-friendly companies according to the Human Rights Campaign's rankings, she wouldn't care. (In fairness, the restaurant's website lists sexual orientation among its diversity efforts in employment and the site repeats the idea that "everyone" is welcome, although this reference most likely is to appease the African-American community, which had accused the chain of racism.)

Now, I love my neighbor as much as my cat, but on this, she's just wrong. However, she isn't alone. There are innumerable LGBT individuals who support businesses that are LGBT-unfriendly, sometimes through ignorance and sometimes through indifference. What many of these individuals fail to realize is that they could be spending money at businesses that are then using that money to promote an anti-LGBT agenda. It's like those farmers they found in the US who consistently vote for candidates who are anti-farming.

Each year, the Human Rights Campaign rates companies on their support, or lack thereof, for gay rights and equality. Cracker Barrel, which ranks near the bottom this year, has moved up from the last place position it formally held. Even so, the companies that rank towards the bottom of the list are still better companies than the ones that landed in the bottom in the past. Previously, such considerations of how much the company openly discriminated against LGBT persons factored in to the rankings. Most large companies don't engage in such practices now, so rankings are largely based on workplace conditions and the extent to which a company provides protections for its LGBT employees. Several companies scored perfectly, including J. C. Penney, Mattel, Sears, Google, Home Depot and Whirlpool. Others, such as Dollar General, got scores of zero. In an effort to emphasize the differences in scores, this past January HRC sent members a quick comparison of some companies:

Macy’s (100%) vs. Saks (30%*)

Staples (100%) vs. Office Depot (45%)

Nike (100%) vs. Adidas/Reebok (15%*)

UPS (100%) vs. FedEx (80%) vs. DHL (30%*)

Whole Foods (85%) vs. Trader Joes (15%*)

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams (100%) vs. Pottery Barn/West Elm (30%*)

(Asterisks denote those companies that failed to answer HRC requests for data, so scores were based on available information.)

Let's say it's time for a new cell phone. You could go with Virgin Mobile or Motorola. Both have good phones and affordable deals for plans. However, Virgin got a score of 15, while Motorola scored at 100. Given equivalent products for comparable value, you could use those discretionary dollars to get what you need and make a statement to corporations about how much intolerance can cost them. Literally. Still, it must be recognized that each market is different, and often, LGBT shoppers have to take what is available, politics aside.

Nonetheless, the LGBT community has a history of using its money to make a point. The most notable boycott by the gay community was against Coors. During the mid-'70s, word spread through the gay and lesbian bars to not get a Coors, a boycott was on. It worked, too. Beginning in the late '70s, Coors begin to adopt positive changes in company policies to include its LGBT employees. Eventually, the company began to court the gay community by sponsoring gay events and advertising in gay magazines.

The most publicized boycott concerned Florida Orange Juice, after former Miss Oklahoma and pop star Anita Bryant was hired to be its spokesperson. Around the same time, the mid-'70s, Bryant had launched a campaign to protect the children of Dade County, Florida, from the evil homosexuals. Bryant was eventually fired, which just adding fuel to her anti-gay rhetoric, and she endured death threats and hate mail. Eventually, both her professional and personal lives collapsed, as she was shunned by potential sponsors. Today, she heads Anita Bryant Ministries. (Personally, I favor destroying the person's argument instead of the person.)

Other boycotts have met with varying success. A recent call for a boycott of Target didn't gain the wide support of the Coors and orange juice boycotts, but it still made an impact. After donating $150,000 to a PAC (political action committee) for Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, viewed as anti-gay, Target recently announced a revision of its donations policy, so that donations are based on business interests and won't offend customers or employees. After the Proposition 8 debacle in California, there were numerous calls for boycotts of any person, place, or organization that helped defeat gay marriage, including a boycott of the entire state of Utah, where the Mormon Church is headquartered. Most likely, Utah isn't hurting too much, as few LGBT people were travelling to Utah before. It's not exactly our Mecca, after all.

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