Recently, Melissa Klein broke down in tears at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C while sharing her story. She is the owner of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a bakery in Oregon that sells wedding cakes to marrying couples. Last year, she and her husband refused service to a lesbian couple and are now facing a $150,000 fine and have had to shut down their bakery.
This is just the latest example of backlash on businesses that take anti-gay stances, showing how big of an issue Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) rights have become in the business world. In fact, one could easily consider it a standalone category of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Some major Fortune 500 companies have benefited from positioning themselves as LGBT-friendly in recent history.
The state of Minnesota is a good place to start. In the last four years, two of the state’s biggest companies, General Mills and Target, made headlines by taking actions connected to gay marriage.
In 2012, General Mills made a public statement opposing a proposed amendment in the Minnesota State Legislature to define marriage exclusively as being between a man and a woman. The amendment was ultimately rejected and General Mills’ stand against it furthered their reputation as a responsible organization. In 2014, they were ranked in Fortune’s “Top 100 Companies to Work For”, and in 2013 they were placed in the Reputation Institute’s “Top 100 CSR Companies”. Their position as a socially responsible company has paid off as they have moved up 22 places in the Fortune 500 from 181 to 159 since 2012.
In 2010, Target made headlines in 2012 as well by donating money to the campaign of Tom Emmer, a gubernatorial candidate who opposed gay marriage. They quickly received backlash for their donation even after explaining that they did not donate to his campaign because of his position on gay marriage, and within weeks of the donation, they publicly apologized. This year, in fact, Target publicly came out in support of gay marriage by signing an amicus brief in support along with many other Fortune 500 companies.
Starbucks is another leading example. In 2012, they released a memorandum taking a company-wide stance supporting gay marriage legislation in their home state of Washington. Here is a piece of the memo.
“Starbucks is proud to join other leading Northwest employers in support of Washington State legislation recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples. Starbucks strives to create a company culture that puts our partners first, and our company has a lengthy history of leading and supporting policies that promote equality and inclusion” (Seattle Times). And it’s no coincidence that Starbucks is especially recognized for its commitment to corporate social responsibility.
Many companies should use the events of the last couple of years to leverage their CSR position by taking company-wide pro-LGBT stances. One particular company who has a position to take action for themselves and should is Disney, mainly because their Orlando park is home to one of the world’s largest and longest-running gay pride celebrations, Gay Days, which will host it’s 25th annual event at Disney World in the summer of 2015, and according to their website, “attracts 170,000+ from around the world to the central Florida area” (GayDays.com). Despite this, Disney has not come out and taken an official stance on the issue at hand, and does not publicly sanction the event. The business that over 175,000 visitors brings to Disney proves to them that the pro-LGBT stance is profitable, and that they would ultimately gain from taking that stance.
Taking any stance on as heated an issue as gay marriage is bound to stir controversy and does have the potential to cause backlash. Returning to Starbucks gives us a direct example. Following their memorandum, the petition Dump Starbucks was initiated in an attempt to cause backlash towards the company via boycott. But to give you an idea of the pros and cons of taking a pro-LGBT stance, the memorandum was released on January 24, 2014, and today the Dump Starbucks petition has still failed to even reach 70,000 signatures. Meanwhile, Starbucks has continued to achieve over 5% comparable sales growth every quarter since the petition’s release.