Gus Kenworthy
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HRC: Corporate Equality Index Not a Defense for Anti-Equality Actions

Pride

While Pride Month is now behind us, we must take the time to recognize that the fight for LGBTQ equality and liberation is ongoing. This Pride, as at every Pride, we saw dozens of brands turn their logos into rainbows. We met with thousands of employees celebrating the work their companies are doing to advance LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices. For many of the companies with which we work most closely, this work goes beyond a single month—they are working to advance equality all year round.

Throughout June, we also saw several reports of corporations who celebrate Pride Month, or who participate in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI)—a national benchmarking tool on corporate policies, practices and benefits pertinent to LGBTQ employees — having a record of donating to anti-equality politicians. A handful of  companies have even explicitly used the CEI to publicly defend their donations to anti-LGBTQ politicians.

I am here to correct the record.

The CEI is a tool that measures LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices. For 20 years it has been the premier benchmarking tool for corporations to see how they can better drive inclusion in the workplace, and for consumers to see if the corporations they engage with are making LGBTQ employees and their families feel welcome and supported. By educating corporate entities and benchmarking corporate practices, we have motivated employers to adopt inclusive workplace benefits and protections that directly impact the lives of approximately 20 million LGBTQ workers and their families — in the United States and around the globe.

At its core, the CEI builds a foundation upon which employees can safely and authentically show up at work. That’s why it has been and remains a critically valuable tool — helping for example the transgender employee who gains employment at a top-rated company access affirming health care for the first time, ensuring the lesbian worker in a small town in the deep South has explicit non-discrimination protections on the job, and guiding human resource professionals on internal training and best practices, among other initiatives.

In clarifying what the CEI is, I also want to be clear about what it is not. The CEI does not measure a company’s PAC donations. It does not grade companies on their contributions to local, state, and federal lawmakers. Rather, it focuses on the experiences of LGBTQ workers who still face far too many disparities in the workplace — where most of us spend the vast majority of our lives. And while the CEI should continue to be a transformational tool for setting the bar for workplace inclusion for LGBTQ workers, it is also only a starting point, not the ending point for corporate stakeholders committed to advancing LGBTQ equality.

In fact, we work on a variety of other initiatives with business leaders who seek to work well beyond their 100 percent CEI scores. For example, working in collaboration with our organization and others, corporate partners have been critical allies for defending and advancing LGBTQ equality in the states and beyond, from HB-2 in North Carolina to joining amicus briefs, to advocating for full legal equality through being members of the Business Coalition for the Equality Act. We also have businesses making commitments to support LGBTQ refugees and fight HIV stigma in the workplace. And over the past few months, many corporations answered our call for more definitive action to beat back the anti-trans attacks in the states by joining our business statement on anti-LGBTQ state legislation. As I noted in a letter in The New York Times, corporate leaders can and should do more. To affect real change, we need corporate allies to utilize all the levers of power that businesses have today.

Companies must also reckon honestly with how their donations to politicians who back anti-LGBTQ bills squares with their commitments to our community. The CEI cannot and should not be used as a shield to defend those actions. LGBTQ customers and allies deserve direct explanations from companies about PAC donations to lawmakers who actively harm our community.

Diversity and inclusion policies and practices advanced through tools like the CEI are critical — but meaningful change requires more. It requires breathing life into these policies and practices in real and tangible ways — and owning up to other business practices that fall short of commitments to equality.

Alphonso David is the President of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization. He is the first civil rights lawyer and person of color to serve as its President.

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