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Let's Not Pretend: Walmart Is Still Hostile to LGBT Workers


The Human Rights Campaign finally acknowledged the retail giant is not treating its employees -- including LGBT employees -- humanely. Jerame Davis says HRC should have made this point much sooner.

In its 2018 Corporate Equality Index, the Human Rights Campaign suspended the score of Walmart after the Transgender Legal and Defense and Education Fund brought to light multiple instances of anti-LGBTQ discrimination at the company through Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cases. This suspension was long overdue.

TLDEF did extraordinary work representing transgender Walmart employees who have been mistreated by the company and we thank them for their efforts to get Walmart's score in the CEI suspended. Pride at Work and UFCW OUTReach, among others, have consistently pointed out the flaws in the CEI's scoring model because it doesn't consider the lived experience of the working people employed by these corporations. A policy that isn't enforced -- or that is enforced haphazardly -- is not really a policy an employee can count upon.

HRC's reticence to change the CEI to account for the application and enforcement of the policies the report assesses speaks to the power these corporations hold over our movement. Recently, when working people in Mississippi at a majority African-American plant were seeking to band together in union to negotiate a better deal with Nissan, HRC was asked to sign a letter demanding Nissan to voluntarily take a neutral stance in the union election. Only two civil rights groups refused to sign the letter -- HRC was one of them.

HRC's reasoning: It has a good relationship with Nissan and the corporation is good on LGBTQ issues. If all working people are being treated poorly by a corporation, then LGBTQ working people are too. When nearly half of a workplace stands together, LGBTQ and otherwise, to say working conditions are dangerous, pay isn't livable, and benefits need to be improved, we should listen to them. Instead, HRC chose to listen to its corporate donor.

Walmart's undeserved high score on the CEI is a symptom of a larger issue: Our community's organizational leaders have consistently demonstrated that they stand behind corporations and CEOs, not LGBTQ working people. Just take a look at the controversies around who sponsors Pride events, taking up ad, float, and booth space. Walmart is among dozens of corporations that couldn't care less about their LGBTQ employees but try to buy our community's loyalty by sponsoring events and enacting feel-good policies that aren't enforced.

It has become increasingly clear that corporations wield far too much influence with the leaders of our movement. Our ability to stand together and negotiate a better deal both at work and in the public square, to hold corporations accountable, is compromised when the organizations that drive our movement are financially beholden to the very interests we need to be fighting against.

Every organization needs the resources to do their work, but those resources should not come by ceding ground to the drivers of inequality. Bowing to corporate interests does not build power for LGBTQ people. It erodes our power and puts our fate in the hands of the wealthiest Americans to decide.

HRC did the right thing in suspending Walmart's score, and it deserves credit for that. But the signs of Walmart's discriminatory behavior were there since the company was first rated by HRC. Pride at Work and OUTReach have had multiple meetings with HRC about Walmart and other corporations that do not deserve the high ratings they receive on the CEI. We proposed modest, reasonable changes that would make a CEI score a more realistic indicator of a corporation's commitment to LGBTQ equality, namely enforcement mechanisms for policies of LGBTQ inclusion.

Unfortunately, HRC has now found itself in the embarrassing situation of having to suspend Walmart's score. It is our sincere hope that HRC will take the necessary steps to ensure the CEI is an accurate measure of a corporation's commitment to LGBTQ equality. Until the CEI includes a mechanism to ensure the policies it measures are enforced, it is impossible to consider the scores in the report as anything other than aspirational. The strongest way to enforce workplace protections for LGBTQ people is with a legally enforceable union contract where employees have immediate recourse for discrimination, rather than relying on time consuming and expensive EEOC complaints.

As always, we stand ready to assist HRC in this effort. We believe the CEI can be made better and that it could become a true indicator of corporate commitment to the dignity and respect of LGBTQ working people. Our community deserves nothing less.

JERAME DAVIS is the executive director of Pride at Work. Follow him on Twitter @jerame. MICHELE KESSLER is chair of UFCW OUTreach.

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Jerame Davis and Michele Kessler