Holiday Guide: Shop Here, Not There

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com December 02 2013 7:00 AM ET

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, or you're getting a late start on Hanukkah shopping, retail season has begun. First came Black Friday, then Small Business Saturday and today is Cyber Monday. But before you whip out a credit card for online purchases or head to the mall to brave the hordes looking for a deal, you should know what companies do with the cash you spend.

Some clearly support their LGBT employees and customers, some clearly don't — and then there's a group somewhere in the muddled middle. For those, you'll want to proceed with caution.

This is our list of the most important track records to remember. For a more comprehensive list, try the Human Rights Campaign's Buyer's Guide, or download its handy iPhone app.

 

STOP HERE: Chevron
NOT THERE: ExxonMobil

The worst company on the entire Corporate Equality Index (an annual list from the Human Rights Campaign of the businesses with the most LGBT-supportive policies) is ExxonMobil. For two consecutive years, the company has scored a -25 out of 100 possible points, which is the lowest score ever received by any corporation. We put ExxonMobil on the cover of The Advocate this year to help draw attention to the company's terrible record. Days later, the company made headlines by extending eligibility for health care plans to the legal spouses of its gay and lesbian employees. But while out doing your holiday shopping, don't line up at these pumps just yet. With the Supreme Court's ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act and subsequent changes to who the federal government considers married, ExxonMobil's old policy had arguably become illegal. The company's shareholders have voted over and over against changing its antidiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity. That hasn't changed. Meanwhile, Chevron had a perfect score from the HRC in both 2012 and 2013. Shell is a close second with a 95.

Proceed With Caution: Urban Outfitters
We know the hip sneakers and displays of books, all exhibited in such a cool, urban manner, are calling your name. The company isn't antigay, but it still might leave LGBT hipsters wondering.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, the company (and its other brands, Anthropologie, Free People, and BHLDN) does not offer very many protections to its LGBT employees. And on top of that, the CEO is known to have donated to anti-LGBT politicians like Rick Santorum. Urban Outfitters once stocked pro-marriage equality shirts but pulled them after a week in 2008. When asked in 2003 for his views were on homosexuality, chairman Richard Hayne told the Philadelphia Weekly, "I have my own opinion, but I am not going to share it." As far as we can tell, a decade later, little has changed.

But it isn't all bad news. UO is all about capitalizing on trends. So with the wave of support for marriage equality, the company's April 2012 catalog featured two hipster girls kissing on page 2, which sent One Million Moms into a tizzy.

SHOP HERE: Don We Now Our Gay Apparel
This holiday shopping season, the most fashionable attire comes from stores that are LGBT-friendly. Kenneth Cole, through many tongue-in-cheek ad campaigns, is a longtime supporter of LGBT people. The company has collaborated with organizations such as HRC to raise funds and awareness with pro-marriage equality apparel like the “Get Married” T-shirt. In addition to boasting an LGBT-friendly workplace environment, Ralph Lauren has also contributed to making equality fashionable. The company has worked extensively with the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which operates the Harvey Milk School for LGBT youth, by providing its students with in-the-field learning opportunities and the school itself with design and marketing resources.
 
The HRC Buyer’s Guide has also given positive reviews to such retailers as Aeropostale, Tiffany & Co., Armani Exchange, and Coach for including sexual orientation and gender identity and expression within their nondiscrimination policies as well as for above-and-beyond supportiveness of LGBT employees and organizations. And pet guardians, be advised: PetSmart also scored good marks, so even gifts for Rover can help support LGBT-friendly businesses.

Then there's Nike, which has thrown boatloads of corporate money to marriage equality in Washington and Oregon as well as fostered an LGBT coalition within the company and lobbied for nondiscrimination laws for LGBT employees.Proceed With Caution: Radio Shack
Your local, in-a-pinch electronics store at least has anti-discrimination protections for gay and lesbian workers and provides domestic-partner health insurance benefits to employees' same-sex parters. But Radio Shack doesn't yet have a provision to protect transgender employees, nor does it guarantee them health coverage, or offer LGBT-focused diversity training. A number of businesses lack these policies, but in this case, if you're fixing to buy an iPad for someone on your Nice list and you don't mind braving the masses, remember that Best Buy has a perfect score on HRC's equality index.

SNACK HERE: Starbucks
NOT THERE: Chick-fil-A
Remember the so-called Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day last year? Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee sent thousands of people into jammed waiting lines and transformed the fast-food chicken chain into an antigay symbol. Don't want gays and lesbians to be able to get married? Eat more chicken. No other mainstream brand is more associated with opposition to marriage equality. But that isn't even what started the LGBT outrage with Chick-fil-A. The company had been donating money to antigay causes, including those that had backed reparative therapy, giving $2 million in 2010 alone via its Winshape Foundation. Now the company has backed off giving to most of the questionable groups.

Despite its tweaks in charitable giving, Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy once again made his views clear after the Supreme Court ruled this year against the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 in California. "Sad day for our nation," he had written on Twitter before deleting the note. "Founding fathers would be ashamed of our gen. to abandon wisdom of the ages re: cornerstone of strong societies." When you inevitably find yourself in the mall, which so many Chick-fil-A's call home, try shopping around the food court.

Or just stop at a Starbucks before your shopping trip. Because if Chick-fil-A is antigay, Starbucks is becoming its pro-LGBT foil. The National Organization for Marriage has been trying for months to get people to sign its "Dump Starbucks" petition over the company's vocal support for marriage equality. It even has this flier that lists all the reasons it disapproves of Starbucks, but you might want to check it out as a list of reasons to get one of those red holiday cups at Starbucks this season.Proceed With Caution: Hasbro
If you simply must stop at Toys 'R' Us (HRC rating: 75) this holiday season to stock up on goodies for the little ones in your life, Hasbro has a mixed history worth knowing about. For starters, the toy company that brought us Transformers, My Little Pony, and Play-Doh scored a dismal rating of 25 on HRC's Corporate Equality Index. Anything less than 60 is considered failing.

But Hasbro has sometimes been receptive when facing public pressure. Late last year a 13-year-old girl took the toy maker to task over what she said was gender-exclusive marketing of the company's famed Easy-Bake Oven. After more than 45,000 people, including celebrity chefs, backed McKenna Pope's Change.org petition demanding that Hasbro start featuring boys in its Easy-Bake marketing and produce the convection toy in gender-neutral colors, the company did announce plans to produce a black-and-silver Easy-Bake oven in addition to the pink-and-purple color schemes already on shelves. Back in 2009, Hasbro came under fire for excluding the option of same-sex marriage in its classic Game of Life — a feature that still doesn't appear in the game on shelves today. But in a modicum of progress, the online version of Life does allow players to marry a person of the same sex — which inevitably caused right-wing website WorldNetDaily to have a conniption about the destruction of "traditional family values" enshrined in Milton Bradley's first game, created in 1860.

Maybe none of that is reason enough to skip Hasbro. But its competitor Mattel earned an "A" rating of 85 from HRC this year. Mattel produces products for all ages and genders, including the iconic Barbie line, American Girl dolls, Hot Wheels cars, Fisher-Price toys, and all-ages games like Apples to Apples, Scrabble, Scene It? and Uno.

SHOP HERE: Online Retailers
Skip the lines and shop in your pajamas on Cyber Monday, which has emerged as the online equivalent of Black Friday. But which of the “dot-com divas” have been most supportive of the LGBT community? Amazon.com, which now boasts shipping even on Sundays, is consistently at the head of the e-shopping pack. Its founder, Jeff Bezos, has pledged millions in support of marriage equality. Faith Driven Consumer, an antigay religious-based website that ranks companies on “Biblical world view,” specifically criticizes Amazon for being a “staunch supporter of the homosexual, bisexual and transgender political and social agenda in the workplace and beyond,” which is a positive attribute in the LGBT world view.

Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock.com, has written for The Advocate on several occasions, in order to voice his support for marriage equality and push for an all-inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

For holiday gifts, Fab.com is a must-click. Originally cofounded by out entrepreneurs Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shellhammer as a gay social network, the site has blossomed into one of the most successful online retailers. Replacements.com, a retailer of glassware, china, and silverware, was also founded by a gay man, Bob Page, who led a visible campaign for marriage equality despite hostile letters and emails from former customers.

And for shipping needs, UPS is a proven advocate of the LGBT community. Earning a rare 100 from HRC, the company even took a firm stand against the antigay policies of the Boy Scouts of America by instituting a policy that blocked donations to the BSA and other discriminatory organizations. With an impressive HRC score of 85 for its support of LGBT people, FedEx also ranks as a company worth endorsing.

Proceed With Caution: Kohl's
We know you've been eyeing those Jennifer Lopez leggings and Bobby Flay cookware down at Kohl's, but it's not exactly the most LGBT-friendly department store at the mall (compared to JCPenney, Nordstrom, or Macy's). The company does have nondiscrimination policies covering its gay and lesbian workers, but not its transgender workers. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the company does not offer other benefits specifically for LGBT employees, there are no initiatives to recruit LGBT job candidates, nor does it require LGBT-focused diversity training. But on top of that, the organization behind the Faith-Driven Consumer Index absolutely loves Kohl's. That is largely because the company eliminated its corporate donations to Planned Parenthood in 2011, and the faith-driven group cites Kohl's low score (15 out of 100) on the HRC's index as the reason behind supporting the store. "Its relatively weak promotion of the homosexual and transgender political agenda indicates support for the natural and traditional family," say the creators of the index. Proceed With Caution: Trump
Donald Trump has a lot of buildings and products with his name on them, including a line of power neckties. But the Trump brand is also synonymous with his ultraconservative politics, including his belief that President Obama's hiding something about his birth certificate and that same-sex couples shouldn't be allowed to marry. On that last point, though, Trump recently told MSNBC's Thomas Roberts that he's "evolving." His view was first noted in 2009 when he defended Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean and her opposition to same-sex marriage. Then Trump said not only should same-sex couples not be allowed to marry, but also they don't deserve equal benefits.

While Trump is one of the country's most prominent businessmen to oppose marriage equality, he's also often publicly embraced LGBT people who work for his ventures. George Takei lobbied him to change his mind on marriage while a guest on The Apprentice, for example. And Roberts, who is gay, was hired to host Trump's Miss Universe Pageant — which was located in antigay Russia. Trump has seemed to embrace transgender people as well, by revising the Miss Universe pageant's policy to include trans women as contestants. All of this is worth keeping in mind when selecting your next Vegas hotel room or neckwear or bottle of wine or golf course or chocolate or stemware or cologne.

SHOP HERE: Have the Gayest House on the Block
If you’re shopping for home furnishings, there are plenty of LGBT-friendly choices. Williams-Sonoma, the gay-beloved parent company of equally gay-beloved stores West Elm and Pottery Barn, scored 80 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s most recent Corporate Equality Index, a few years after it took some criticism for not participating. Its antidiscrimination policy explicitly includes sexual orientation and gender identity. It needs to upgrade its transgender health coverage and add some cultural competency efforts, such as diversity training, to achieve a perfect score. But the current score’s high enough to recommend it. Crate & Barrel does even better, with a 90 score, and its Ultimate Wedding Contest has been open to same-sex couples.

If you want to go full-on LGBT-inclusive, though, there’s Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, the firm founded by the gay men of the same names. The company has a perfect 100 on the HRC index, and it has many other praiseworthy policies that aid LGBT folks and others. Its factory in North Carolina has an on-site, nonprofit day care center, the first in the residential furniture industry. It donated 5 percent of Thanksgiving weekend sales to relief efforts assisting typhoon survivors in the Philippines. And Gold is the founder of Faith in America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about how religion-based bigotry is used to justify discrimination against LGBT people. Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams has its own stores across the nation, and its products are available at numerous other retail outlets; you can find a store near you via its website.POTLUCK HERE: Bertolli
NOT THERE: Barilla
If you're like a lot of families, your holiday meal or party might include pasta. But if you're an LGBT family, Barilla still has no plans of including you in its advertising. Chairman Guido Barilla famously said this year that "I would never do [a commercial] with a homosexual couple, not for lack of respect but because we don't agree with them," according to a Reuters translation of an interview in Italian. "Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role. … If [gays] don't like it, they can go eat another brand." He's since apologized a few times.

A lot of LGBT families have said there's nothing the company could say to repair its image, so it's launched a diversity panel charged with finding ways to prove the apology reflects a new inclusive culture. We'll see. But if you want to boil some pasta from a brand that includes you in its advertising, just try Bertolli. Immediately after Guido Barilla's comments, the company shared some same-sex pasta-loving couples in graphics via social media. And it's included same-sex couples in television ads for the Logo network in the past.Proceed With Caution: Hobby Lobby
Hobby Lobby, a privately held retailer of arts and crafts items, is much in the news these days because its owners claim their religious freedom is being violated by the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employer-provided insurance policies cover contraception; the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear Hobby Lobby’s case. It’s not entirely clear if the company’s social conservatism extends to LGBT issues, though.

On the one hand, it has donated to many not-so-friendly Christian fundamentalist institutions, such as Oral Roberts University and the Alliance Defending Freedom (a legal group formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund). And Hobby Lobby does not participate in the Human Rights Campaign’s survey of companies on their LGBT-related policies, so there is no rating available. On the other, in 2012, in light of the Chick-fil-A controversy, the company issued a statement saying, “Hobby Lobby does not discriminate with regard to race, color, religion, gender, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability, sexual preference or any other basis protected by state or federal law.” OK, the language is a bit dated and allows some wiggle room, but it’s a start. If you're judging solely based on how your dollars impact LGBT equality, for now “proceed with caution” on Hobby Lobby.

SHOP HERE: Tech Gadgets Galore
It's no surprise that the tech industry, unofficially headquartered in Northern California's Silicon Valley, less than an hour from the LGBT mecca that is San Francisco, tends to score well when it comes to corporate equality and LGBT-savvy policies. That's a good thing too, since consumer surveys demonstrate that LGBT consumers tend to be early adopters of new technology and want the latest, greatest, most high-tech gadgets available.

Whether you're shopping for a die-hard Apple enthusiast or someone with a strong PC preference, you're in the clear to gift guilt-free from Apple, Dell, Microsoft, or Google, all of which earned perfect 100 scores on HRC's most recent index.

Just be weary of an ACER product (which includes the nearly defunct brands of Packard Bell and Gateway), since that company earned the distinctive dishonor of being the lowest-rated tech company on this year's HRC index, with a score of just 35.

Win over your jaded teenage niece or nephew with the latest smartphone, complete with a plan from Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint, all of which earned perfect scores from HRC this year. When you're trekking out to find the trendiest tech toys, start at super-retailer Best Buy, since it also earned a perfect 100. For the tech-savvy bibliophile in your life, you can choose between the Nook from Barnes & Noble, which scored a perfect 100, or a Kindle from Amazon, which ran a gay-inclusive commercial for the product earlier this year. 

Proceed With Caution: Salvation Army
The bell-ringers with their red kettles are a symbol nearly synonymous with the holidays, but since at least 2001, LGBT people have been calling for a boycott of the Salvation Army's fundraising drives. They point to the organization's refusal to provide benefits to partners of gay and lesbian employees as well as the group's evangelical Christian doctrine, which cites scripture forbidding "sexual intimacy between members of the same sex," according to the Human Rights Campaign.

But this year — just in time for the holidays — the Salvation Army announced that it has revised its nondiscrimination policies to explicitly include sexual orientation. Employees and volunteers with the Army are no longer allowed to deny service or employment to someone on the basis of sexual orientation, and the Army's director of communications told pro-LGBT group Truth Wins Out last week that "we serve everyone who comes to our doors without discrimination." The Army also removed two links to religious groups that advocate so-called ex-gay therapy, the scientifically discredited practice that aims to turn gay people straight through prayer and counseling.

While the Army's modest steps toward basic tolerance of LGBT people should be applauded — we've got to commend even incremental progress when we see it — the organization still has some history to overcome with lasting progress. 

If you're still weary and looking for an alternative thrift store to shop or help out, we suggest Californians patronize Out of the Closet, a fabulous chain of thrift stores run by the global nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation that donates a substantial portion of its proceeds to HIV and AIDS research. According to the organization, 96 cents of every dollar earned goes directly to funding patient care, and the stores regularly host free HIV testing drives. Around the nation, secondhand stores that support HIV and AIDS groups include the Housing Works shops in New York City, the Brown Elephant in Chicago, Philly AIDS Thrift in Philadelphia, and the Lifelong Thrift Store in Seattle. You'll find options in several other cities as well.

UPDATE: Curves International was recently sold by former owner Gary Heavin, and is now owned by North Castle Partners. Curves' CEO is now Monty Sharma. The fitness chain also announced in November a partnership with Jillian Michaels starting in January 2014.

SWEAT HERE: Crunch (and others)
NOT THERE: Curves

Don't go buying your pals a two-for-one membership to finally get fit in the new year at Curves. This chain of gyms built specifically for women to work out in a safe, comfortable environment boasts 10,000 locations across 60 countries. With the success of the company, the CEO has become a major donor to organizations that oppose reproductive rights, and the company has partnered up with the antigay group, American Family Association, in the past. The AFA is rated as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. CEO Gary Heavin, a born-again Christian, apparently lived next door at one time to President George W. Bush and is a major supporter to multiple Republican fundraising organizations. While Crunch is not on the HRC index, the company started to make exercise fun in New York's East Village in the late '80s. And nowadays Crunch boasts a ton of fun class options, including a few by lady-loving fitness phenom Jillian Michaels. It isn't the only option, that's for sure. Equinox, David Barton Gym, and many more serve LGBT clients with pride.

 

Written by Michelle Garcia, Trudy Ring, Daniel Reynolds, Sunnivie Brydum, and Lucas Grindley. Graphics by Tiara Chiaramonte.