Monday, August 23, 2010

Target's Politics: The Exception or the Rule?

Appearing on Michelangelo Signorile’s radio show, Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, defended the group’s Corporate Equality Index saying that it gave bisexual, transgender, gay, and lesbian job seekers a way to assess a prospective employer’s policies.

The index asks, among several items, if employers have anti-discrimination policies that include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity or do they grant employee benefits to the unmarried partners of their employees. With a possible maximum score of 100, employers can lose 15 points if they engage in “activity that would undermine LGBT equality.”

Sainz told Signorile on August 18 that the index helps people in “understanding the difference between a company being a very solid employer for LGBT people and, in fact, having progressive policies that all Americans don’t enjoy under federal law and understanding perhaps their more holistic persona when factoring in political contributions.”

Doubts about the index arose after Target, the Minneapolis-based retailer, gave $150,000 to MN Forward, a right wing 527 group, that used the cash to pay for television ads supporting Tom Emmer, a candidate for governor in Minnesota and a conservative who holds anti-gay positions. The Human Rights Campaign gave Target perfect 100s in the 2009 and 2010 indexes.

Signorile raised a question about the index -- how could a company that supports political views that are fundamentally at odds with the central goals of the transgender, lesbian, bisexual, and gay community score a perfect 100 on the index and why was it still listed after the disclosure of the MN Forward donation? The Human Rights Campaign ultimately delisted Target, but the gay rights lobbying group is missing a larger point.

Some quick and admittedly cursory searching at, the web site operated by the Committee for Responsive Politics, shows that corporations that scored a 100 on the 2010 index have employees and directors who donated to pro-gay senators and representatives as well as the most anti-gay members of Congress. Companies with a perfect score that have their own political action committees were just as likely to have supported our friends as our opponents.

Notwithstanding their willingness to put in place a few pro-gay policies, corporations are generally agnostic or oppose the community on our political issues. This was evident in 2007 during lobbying for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a federal law that then barred discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation.

Back then, only nine companies and the University of Michigan lobbied in favor of the act. Some major business lobbies -- the American Benefits Council, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Retail Industry Leaders Association -- were neutral on the bill. The Business Roundtable, an association of chief executives of U.S. companies, never disclosed its position. That neutrality should not be dismissed because it contributed to the employment act passing the House. It came at a very high price.

Using the definition of married in the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which says marriage is only between a man and a woman, the employment act said an employer cannot be required “to treat a couple who are not married in the same manner as the covered entity treats a married couple for purposes of employee benefits.”

In other words, a gay or lesbian couple who married in the six jurisdictions where such unions are legal are not recognized as legal spouses under the employment act and employers need not give the same employee benefits or any benefits at all to the spouses of their married gay and lesbian employees.

What makes this concession to these business interests particularly noxious is that back in the 80s and 90s, when the gay and lesbian community sought domestic partner benefits from employers, we demonstrated definitively that the cost of such benefits to employers was minimal. There is no reason to believe that the cost would differ when they are paid to the legal spouse of a gay or lesbian employee.

What we saw in 2007 was corporate America’s real view of the lesbian, transgender, bisexual, and gay community. Companies want our money and they will make pitches for it. They will give a few benefits, but when it comes to the important matters, health insurance for instance, companies are unwilling to spend serious cash though obviously there are exceptions to this.

The larger problem with the Corporate Equality Index is that it gives the impression that corporate America has our back. It does not. As we saw in 2007, when the interests of the transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual community are in conflict with what business wants, we lose.

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