Ben Carson's Surprising History With Pro-LGBT Companies Kellogg, Costco

Ben Carson, Costco, and Kellogg

Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson, it turns out, has served on the board of not one LGBT-friendly company but two.

Carson, who got quizzed at Wednesday night’s Republican debate about his membership on the board of Costco and claimed his opposition to marriage equality doesn’t mean he’s homophobic, also was once on the board of Kellogg, a company rated even higher for LGBT-supportive policies than Costco. He resigned from both corporate boards earlier this year as he launched his presidential campaign; cutting such ties is usual for candidates.

At the debate, the retired neurosurgeon was asked how he squared his well-known opposition to LGBT equality with his board service at Costco, a membership warehouse club that scored 90 out of a possible 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s most recent Corporate Equality Index.

“There is no reason you can’t be perfectly fair to the gay community” even while believing, as he does, that marriage should be limited to opposite-sex couples, Carson responded. People, he continued, “shouldn’t automatically assume that because you believe that marriage is between one man and one woman that you are a homophobe. This is one of the myths that the left perpetrates on our society, and this is how they frighten people and get people to shut up. That’s what the P.C. culture is all about, and it’s destroying this nation.”

Carson, who has made statements that provide ample evidence of homophobia, wasn’t asked about Kellogg, although he got a query about his activities on behalf of a dietary supplements company, Mannatech, that has made questionable claims about its products (he tried to distance himself from the company). But he did serve on Kellogg’s board from 1997 until this year, according to a Detroit News story about his resignation. His association with Costco went back to 1999.

Kellogg, famed for its cereals, got a perfect 100 on the most recent HRC index. It offers the one thing that kept Costco from a perfect score — insurance coverage of medically necessary procedures for transgender employees. Companies are also rated on their antidiscrimination policies, employee support groups, diversity training, and other factors.

In an email to The Advocate, Kellogg spokeswoman Kris Charles declined to say if there's any record of Carson discussing these policies, saying only, "Dr. Carson was a valuable member of our board for 18 years, and we are grateful for his contributions." She did, however, explain the Battle Creek, Mich., company's approach to inclusion:

"Kellogg has long been committed to diversity and inclusion — it’s core to our values. From how we treat each other to how we run our business, the company puts a tremendous amount of effort toward ensuring equality and respect through our policies, benefits and culture. We launched our company’s formal Diversity & Inclusion initiative in 2001, with policy and inclusive changes occurring over the following years.
"Our approach to Diversity & Inclusion is comprehensive, and we’re proud of the advancements we’re making. We’ve made progress in a number of LGBT-specific areas including offering domestic partner benefits, establishing a LGBT employee resource group, taking positions against discriminatory legislation and supporting various local and national LGBT-focused organizations to name a few. These efforts and more have helped us proudly maintain a perfect 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for the past five years."

Kellogg has also stood up to right-wing criticism. Last year the company aroused the ire of the antigay American Family Association with an ad depicting Frosted Flakes mascot Tony the Tiger and the tagline “Wear your stripes with pride.” Kellogg had sponsored the Atlanta Pride celebration and taken out an ad in the event’s Pride Guide. The ad also touted Kellogg’s high HRC rating.

As the AFA lambasted Kellogg, the company released a statement showing it wouldn’t back down. “Kellogg is firmly committed to diversity and inclusion and puts a tremendous amount of effort toward ensuring equality through our policies, benefits and culture,” Mark King, head of global diversity, told The Huffington Post. “We are honored to have been named a Top 50 company for Diversity by DiversityInc, and for achieving a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.”

Costco, based in Issaquah, Wash., did not respond to The Advocate's request for comment, nor did Carson’s campaign organization.