By Joe Harris
As more and more American businesses—and not just the Fortune 500—“come out” of the H.R. closet and begin to offer a full range of employee benefits to LGBT employees—and their partners—an entire new realm will come into focus, one where public policy meets the free market, and where captains of industry will become, in greater instances, required to put their portfolios where their mouths are.
Diversity experts point as examples to the CEOs of AT&T and “Big Four” professional services and accounting firm Ernst & Young, who serve on the Board of Directors of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Randall Stephenson, the Chairman and CEO of AT&T, and the telecom giant he helms both have strong records of supporting diversity and LGBT rights, as does Ernst & Young and its CEO, James Turley. Likewise, both companies have recently issued statements in support of LGBT rights. But neither CEO has hinted at leaving the Scouts over differences concerning LGBT rights, even though BSA policy forbids openly gay individuals from serving as Scout leaders, or from joining as members. Although the Scouts have recently agreed to review the ban on gay Scout leaders, officials say that a decision isn’t likely until 2013 at the earliest.
In 2001, Hollywood mogul Stephen Spielberg resigned from his seat on the BSA advisory board, citing conflicting views with the organization. “I thought the Boy Scouts stood for equal opportunity, and I have consistently spoken out publicly and privately against intolerance and discrimination based on ethnic, religious, racial, and sexual orientation,” Spielberg said when he resigned.
Although investment bank and securities titan Goldman Sachs is reported to have lost an anonymous client after CEO Lloyd Blankfein publicly endorsed same sex marriage, company officials say the bulge bracket house has no plans to change its policy supporting marriage equality. Retailer JCPenney was threatened with boycott by the conservative American Family Association and its offshoot, “One Million Moms,” after the chain selected Ellen DeGeneres as its spokesperson.
Experts on both the retail and public policy fronts say that culturally, there’s a growing intolerance among younger consumers for companies and brands that don’t support LGBT rights. When JCPenney was attacked for choosing DeGeneres, Facebook was bombarded with people who said they would shop at the retailer, and “1 Million People Who Support Ellen for JCPenney” on Facebook quickly overtook One Million Moms’ page. Both JCPenney and Gap have advertising campaigns depicting same sex couples.
Medical products manufacturer Johnson & Johnson has teamed with Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFFLAG) to end gay bullying. Target, headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, recently began selling T-shirts to support a group that is trying to defeat the state’s same sex marriage ban. Food products giant and Fortune 500 Corporation General Mills, also based in Minneapolis, is another institutional supporter of LGBT rights.