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    December 07, 2006

    Fortune's look at Queer Inc.

    Posted by: Chris

    Pick up the latest issue of Fortune magazine for a whole slew of articles bearing good news about gays and big business in the U.S of A. Among the highlights available online:

    Fortune_20061211 Besides the sheer volume of reporting here, most of it by senior Fortune writer Marc Gunther, the most surprising take-away is how overwhelmingly good the news is. Reading vignette after vignette about how well gay employees are being treated by their Fortune 500 employers, it's almost jarring to come across anything less than fully supportive. Like this example from Gunther's story about how gay employee groups have transformed the corporate workplace for gay Americans:

    These gay networks customarily meet in company facilities, use the company intranet, and receive financial support. Some get more respect than others. Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, makes it a point to clear his calendar each year for the annual gatherings of the African American and women's networks at GE, but he has never met with the GLBT group. That's caused some bad feelings.

    Does anyone doubt after that bit of nasty press that Immelt will be finding time on his schedule in the near-future to sit down with the GLBT group at G.E.? Not to mention Gunther's column about ExxonMobil, which begins provocatively enough:

    Does ExxonMobil have a problem with gay people? While much of corporate America has embraced gay rights — by promising not to discriminate against gay workers and offering domestic partner benefits — the world's largest oil company has steadfastly resisted pressures to become more gay-friendly.

    Gunter goes on to note, among other things, that every other Fortune 100 company but one (Plains All American Pipeline, an energy firm in Houston) has adopted a written non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, and 78 of the Fortune 100 offer health benefits to same-sex domestic partners, including ExxonMobil competitors BP, Chevron and Shell. He concludes just as provocatively:

    Exxon says in its proxy statement that the company "has zero-tolerance discrimination and harassment policies that are comprehensive in nature, rigorously enforced, and applicable to all employees." It goes on to say that those policies prohibit "discrimination or harassment for any reason, including sexual orientation."

    You've got to wonder. If ExxonMobil will tell its shareholders that it opposes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, why won't it put that into its employment policy to tell its workers the same thing?

    In such a large report, it's not surprising that there are a few points worth quibbling over. In "Queer Inc.," Gunther quotes an anti-gay activist who claims they called of a (ridiculous) boycott of Tide, Crest and other Proctor & Gamble products because of alleged private promises that P&G has "quietly backed away from promoting homosexuality" (as if they ever did such a thing).

    But Gunther allows that the activist "may be right" because P&G's score on the Corporate Equality Index compiled by the Human Rights Campaign "has dropped in recent years." The real reason for that isn't a reversal by P&G on any previous gay-friendly stance, but because HRC (understandably) raises the bar every year to pressure further improvements in the workplace. In recent years, many of those changes in the Index ratings have been in the controversial area of treatment of transgender workers, which most likely accounts for P&G's falling score.

    In Gunther's paean to MTV's Logo channel, he swallows what he likely heard from some P.R. flack that there was no mainstream advertising in gay media before the cable channel's debut last year:

    Before [Logo] came along, gay media was dominated by free local newspapers that were mostly financed by personal ads, by Web sites and AOL chat rooms where users could remain anonymous, by a pay TV network called Here! that viewers had to invite into their homes, and by The Advocate, a 37-year-old national magazine that even today arrives in a black envelope.

    Huh? The local gay press hasn't received a significant portion of its revenue (much less a majority) from personal ads in at least a dozen years, when the Internet gobbled up that arena. The majority of ad dollars in local gay papers like the ones I edited have come from "mainstream" (as in "non-gay") businesses, including big business, for at least a decade.

    And while the Advocate and (ironically) Out magazine, like competitors Genre and Instinct, are still distributed in covered envelopes, they broke the ground on national ads from brand-conscious corporations long before MTV and Viacom got into the game. Logo's success can be trumpeted without diminishing the real yeoman's work that came before.

    Still, all in all, Fortune did an impressive job of charting the course gays have taken in corporate America. In his blog, Gunther offers up the conclusion he reached after completing the work behind the arsenal of stories:

    I learned a lot reporting this story, met some great people, and came away with this thought–that this is one of those rare areas (the environment, in some respects, is another, although that’s more complicated) where big business is leading the rest of America in a progressive direction. As business becomes more gay-friendly, more people will come out at work. As more people come out, their co-workers will become more tolerant and empathetic.

    It's a familiar point that doesn't lose its power with time. It also ought to be the clarion call for gays everywhere that our fate remains, as always, very much in our own hands. As for whether big business is truly out front of "the rest of America" on being gay-friendly, I think Gunther overstates the case.

    Polls have shown a strong majority of Americans have for years backed workplace protections, domestic partner benefits, and even legal recognition for gay couples up to the level of civil unions that are marriage in all but the name.  Big business isn't ahead of the rest of America so much as the politicians in Washington are behind.  Time will tell if the changes on Capitol Hill in January redress that gap.



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    1. Marc Gunther on Dec 8, 2006 11:24:12 PM:

      Thanks, Chris, for calling attention to my stories, and for your comments and constructive criticisms. You're 100% right that I didn't dig into the role of gay media pre-Logo, and should have. For what it's worth, all the stories except for "Queer Inc." were for CNNMoney, Fortune's website. Only "Queer Inc." appeared in print.
      I do think business is ahead of the rest of America because, as one gay exec told me, it is "logic-based" (mostly) rather than "faith-based." When you see dozens of companies backing HRC, and pacesetters like IBM, Citigroup and American Airlines helping to support and even start GLBT groups, that's surprisingly progressive behavior, I think, for a segment of society that most people (wrongly) stereotype as predictably conservative.

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