Gay Pushback Over Charity Program Benefitting Anti-LGBT Groups
Many of America's biggest companies are overtly gay-friendly. But some of those companies are also much more discreetly supportive of anti-gay groups like Focus on the Family (FOF) and the Family Research Council (FRC), faith-based organizations that condemn gays and their families and actively work to deny them legal and social equality, the New York Times reported on Sept. 25.
Microsoft, one of the nation's most progressive companies when it comes to LGBT employees, is among the major firms that uses the services of an Internet provider that puts them in touch with online customers, and then diverts a share of the commission it makes to anti-gay groups. When Stuart Wilber, a gay resident of Seattle, where Microsoft is based, realized that business transactions between the software giant and Christian customers resulted in fees going to the coffers of anti-gay groups, he raised an alarm.
The ensuing controversy has opened up a whole new front where the same old questions and talking points are raised and re-hashed anew. Advocates of LGBT legal and social equality are working to spread the word that the service, Charity Giveback Group (CGBG), funnels cash to groups they say promote hatred and bias in the law and in everyday life. Gays should shop accordingly, they say, and refuse to support companies that channel some of the money they get from gay patrons into causes the target those very same people for legislative attack.
On the other side, well-worn claims of anti-Christian persecution and gay-driven oppression have found a completely new application, the New York Times reported.
"In July, Mr. Wilber went to a Web site that helps groups and individuals circulate petitions, called Change.org, and started one, asking Microsoft to end its association with what he called 'hate groups,' " the New York Times article said.
"By that night, 520 people had signed, with their ire copied to Microsoft officials--and Microsoft had quietly dropped out of the donation plan. Much to Mr. Wilber's surprise, this would be the start of an electronic conflict that has put hundreds of well-known companies in an unwelcome glare."
The anti-gay line of attack has grown increasingly pugnacious in recent years, with efforts by gay groups to assert their economic and political muscle being labeled everything from "intimidation" and "bullying" to "terrorism" by religiously based foes of LGBT equality.
For the gay community, however, flexing those muscles seems like a long-delayed means of shaking off shackles of oppression and prejudice imposed on sexual minorities in the name of religious and moral doctrines.
Though boycotts--whether called for by anti-gay groups or LGBT equality advocates--are of questionable effectiveness in terms of how much money they actually cost companies, the public relations part of the equation is always difficult to manage, never more so than now, an age in which petitions and online alerts can go viral overnight.
With both sides watching like hawks, companies that directly fund anti-gay groups--like Southern fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, or Target--can become the target of gay boycotts and negative PR campaigns, even as anti-gay activists point to such actions as another form of gay thuggery similar to the kind of intimidation anti-gay groups claim the LGBT community inflicted upon people of Christian conscience following the passage of Prop 8 in California.
On the other hand, when anti-gay groups call for boycotts of McDonald's, as happened two years ago when a French TV ad for the restaurant chain featured a young gay man, or encourage their followers to avoid a vacation to Disneyland in protest of "Gay Days," the LGBT community rallies, lionizing those companies for their fair-mindedness and commitment to equality.
Businesses may or may not harbor a corporate culture that tends toward the gay-friendly or the homophobic, but at the end of the day all businesses exist to make money, and negative PR does carry the risk of damaging the bottom line or tarnishing a brand's name.
The extreme rhetoric that sometimes accompanies the highly public controversies only makes things worse.
Anti-gay politician and pastor Mike Huckabee, who is employed as a consultant by CGBG, resorted to just such rhetoric in condemning LGBT efforts to convince companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Netflix, and a host of others no longer to use the company.
"This is economic terrorism," Huckabee declared. "To try to destroy a business because you don't like some of the customers is, to me, unbelievably un-American."
"Close to 100 companies have left the charity arrangement, though most refuse to discuss the matter," the Times article said. "These have become the objects, in turn, of a counter campaign from the Christian groups--'Please Don't Discriminate Against My Faith' is the heading of a sample letter--and of high-level entreaties from Mr. Huckabee and other Christian leaders."
Underlying the fracas is the assumption, on both sides, that "gay " and "Christian" are mutually exclusive terms. To religious conservatives, being gay is a matter of sexual conduct that excludes the possibility of pursuing a moral, Christian life. For many LGBTs, Christianity means endorsing a faith tradition that is often, though not always, hostile to sexual minorities.
Each step forward that gays and their families have taken has been met with howls of anger and alarm from Christians hysterically convinced that their right to worship as they believe and speak their minds is about to be taken away.
Conversely, every anti-gay Christian initiative only sharpens the perception among LGBTs that Christians will not rest until gays have been stuffed and locked back in the closet and their families erased from legal existence.
The anti-gay side has a few legitimate examples of their faith being abrogated: Churches and other faith groups sued by gay couples unhappy at being turned away for a marriage or civil unions ceremony, or religious adoption agencies being forced by the law and their own faith tenets to abandon the mission of placing needy children in good homes.
But gays have a stronger case to make in arguing that their livelihoods, families, and identities as gay people are imperiled when their rights are put up to popular votes and campaigns against them are funded with massive sums by groups like the National Organization for Marriage.