Saturday, June 23, 2007

Plugged-in: Wal-Mart shuns gay groups

From Fortune via CNN courtesy of AlterNet:

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has decided to curb its support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) organizations after conservative Christian groups threatened a boycott, and after some of its own employees expressed disapproval.

The move comes a year after Wal-Mart had put on a gay-friendly smile. The company joined the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. It sponsored the annual convention of Out & Equal, a group that promotes gay rights in the workplace, and sold gay-themed jewelry in stores.

"We are not currently planning corporate-level contributions to GLBT groups," said Mona Williams, the company's senior vice president of corporate communications. Individual stores can still donate to gay groups.

By way of explanation, Ms. Williams cited a policy adopted last fall saying that Wal-Mart would not make corporate contributions "to support or oppose highly controversial issues" unless they directly relate to the company's ability to serve its customers.

Click here for the rest.

A few years back while I was watching the Houston gay pride parade I was struck by how many corporate floats there were. "Wow," I thought, "it looks like society really is changing." Of course, even though society really is changing, the new gay-friendly face many corporations are donning these days has very little to do with different attitudes among the corporate elite. This Wal-Mart move illustrates the point well.

Corporations don't have "attitudes." They don't have feelings. They don't like or dislike different groups of people. They discriminate sometimes, yes, and they do the right thing sometimes, too, but not because they have bigoted or benevolent attitudes one way or the other. It's all about PR and profit.

Clearly, Wal-Mart decided a while back that they would make more money than they would lose by heavily marketing to gay people--from the corporate point of view, "contributions" means "marketing", rather than a nice thing that individual human beings do for charities they like. Now it turns out that that the cost-cutting mega-retailer miscalculated. Gay-friendly does indeed stand to lose the company more money than it would gain. Consequently, they're trying to put on a neutral face now, in hopes of appeasing the fundamentalists who comprise their core market.

Good business move, I guess, but what this story really emphasizes to me is how easily we all fall into believing the carefully crafted corporate fiction that big businesses are our friends, with human personas and feelings just like any other American. Really, all they want is our money, and if selling out a small group of Americans will get them what they want, then that's what they'll do.