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Tractor Supply caves to far-right homophobia and bigotry and drops all LGBTQ+ support

Tractor Supply Company Libs Tiktok Logo Robby Starbuck
Alexanderstock23/Shutterstock; facebook @RobbyStarbuckTN

The seismic shift in attitude comes after 3 weeks of attacks by far-right extremists.

Cwnewser

Tractor Supply Co., the Tennessee-based animal feed and farm retailer, has abandoned all diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives following a barrage of pressure from far-right activists in a striking and unsettling shift. This decision to abandonLGBTQ+, Black, and other minority communities has ignited a vigorous debate about the role ofcorporations in fostering inclusive environments and the sway of political extremism over corporate policy.

The changes include halting data submissions to the Human Rights Campaign, refocusing Team Member Engagement Groups on mentoring and networking, eliminating DEI roles, retiring current DEI goals, and shifting environmental focus from carbon emissions to land and water conservation. The company will cease sponsoring non-business activities likePride festivals andvoting campaigns.

“Going forward, we will ensure our activities and giving tie directly to our business. For instance, this means we will further focus on rural America priorities including agricultural education, animal welfare, veteran causes, and being a good neighbor,” Tractor Supply said in a statement.

CEO Hal Lawton emailed employees about these sweeping changes, expressing a need to realign with core values. “It has become clear to me over the last few weeks that some of the actions we have taken as a company have veered us off course, losing our balance as we work to serve and reflect the values and perspectives of all our customers and Team Members—those we care about so much,” Lawton wrote.

We are passionate about being good neighbors in our hometowns because without you, we would not be what we are. It is imperative to us that our customers’ hard-earned dollars are taking care of our Team Members and the communities we all love. As you supported us, we have invested millions of dollars in veteran causes, emergency response, animal shelters, state fairs, rodeos, and farmers markets. We have also invested in the future of rural America. We are the largest supporter of FFA and have longstanding relationships with 4-H and other educational organizations. We work hard to live up to our Mission and Values every day and represent the values of the communities and customers we serve. We have heard from customers that we have disappointed them. We have taken this feedback to hear,” the company wrote.

The catalyst for this corporate retreat emerged on June 6 when far-right influencer Robby Starbuck launched a critique on X (formerlyTwitter) targeting Tractor Supply’s political donations and corporate practices.

“It’s time to expose Tractor Supply,” Starbuck began, listing grievances such as “LGBTQIA+ training for employees, fundingpride/drag events, a DEI Council, funding sex changes, climate change activism, Pride month decorations in the office, DEI hiring practices, and LGBTQIA+ events at work.” He accused the company’s CEO Hal Lawton of promoting “woke priorities” that do not align with Tractor Supply’s customer base. Starbuck urged his followers to contact Tractor Supply’s corporate office and make their opposition known.

Amplified by Libs of TikTok, a far-right account run by Chaya Raichik, Starbuck’s post quickly gained traction, leading to widespread calls for a boycott. By Thursday, Tractor Supply announced it would dismantle all DEI efforts. “We have heard from customers that we have disappointed them. We have taken this feedback to heart,” the company wrote in itsstatement.

After news of the change began to spread, outraged customers flooded the social media channels for the company, leading the company to disable commenting on its platforms. Lawton changed his X profile to private.

In an attempt to erase its diversity legacy, Tractor Supply removed all DEI-related content from its website. However, the Wayback Machine’s internet archive reveals a company that once championed an inclusive culture. The archived page stated, “Our values guide us in how we treat each other as Team Members and how we create a welcoming environment for everyone we serve, including each other, our customers and our communities.” The company had proudly supported employee diversity groups such as African Americans on the R.I.S.E., Asian Pacific Life Out Here, Fuerte Juntos: Strong Together - Hispanic TMEG, LGBTQ+ You Belong OUT Here, Veterans Group, Women Out Here, and Young Professionals.

Before the sharp change in corporate citizenship, HRC had awarded Tractor Supply a score of 95 out of 100 in its 2023 Corporate Equality Index. Tractor Supply received 5 out of 5 points for workforce protections, including a policy that covers sexual orientation and gender identity. It earned 50 out of 50 points for inclusive benefits, supporting equivalency in same- and different-sex spousal and partner medical and soft benefits, family formation benefits, and equal health coverage for transgender individuals. The company also provided an LGBTQ+ Benefits Guide for its employees. For internal training and inclusive culture, Tractor Supply earned 25 out of 25 points for providing LGBTQ+ training, data collection efforts, gender transition guidelines, and having an LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group. The company earned 15 out of 20 points in corporate social responsibility for outreach and engagement to the broader LGBTQ+ community.

Starbuck celebrated the company’s decision, posting, “Massive victory to report. I’ve exposed the woke agenda @TractorSupply’s corporate office for 3 weeks. Now they’ve responded. X is where real reporting and change happens.”

TheHuman Rights Campaign denounced the move, with Eric Bloem, vice president of programs and corporate advocacy, criticizing the company’s decision in a statement to The Advocate.

“Tractor Supply Co is turning its back on their own neighbors with this shortsighted decision. LGBTQ+ people live in every zip code in this country, including rural communities. Companies from every industry work closely with us to be sure their employees and customers are respected, valued and can get the job done for their workforce and shareholders. Caving to far-right extremists is only going to hurt the same folks that these businesses rely on.”

GLAAD’s president and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis, expressed her disappointment in Tractor Supply’s announcement in a statement to The Advocate.

”LGBTQ people in rural areas should feel safe in their communities and the stores where they shop,” she said. “Tractor Supply’s embarrassing capitulation to the petty whims of anti-LGBTQ extremists puts the company out of touch with the vast majority of Americans who support their LGBTQ friends, family, and neighbors. No company should be proud of abandoning the American values of freedom, equality, and civic engagement.”

Ellis pointed out that LGBTQ+ people have money to spend and that supporting them is good for business. “It sends an appalling message, during Pride month, to see a rural staple go out of their way to bring harm to their LGBTQ customers and employees,” she wrote.

John Boyd, founder of the National Black Farmers Association, also expressed dismay. “I think it’s a step backward, especially for Black farmers. It sends the wrong signal as far as companies doing more with diversity,” Boyd told The Advocate. “When you use the word going back and [for yourself add] Black in the same sentence, it’s always bad. How about us going forward and including everybody?”

Boyd, who owns a 2,000-acre working farm in Virginia and shops at Tractor Supply, has been in discussions with the company and said he reached out to Lawton after learning about the developments from The Advocate. “I reached out to Mr. Lawton and sent him an email about it. I haven’t heard anything back, but I certainly would like to speak to the president about it,” Boyd said. “I have a call with them coming up next week.”

Boyd highlighted the presence of Black farmers across the country and the incongruence of Tractor Supply’s position with the lived reality of diverse farmers nationwide. “Black farmers exist everywhere. We are in rural communities; we are in urban communities. This decision by Tractor Supply does not reflect the diverse reality of the farming community,” Boyd said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 45,000 Black farmers are in the United States, making up about 1.3 percent of the nation’s 3.4 million farmers.

He also highlighted systemic issues within the agricultural sector, noting that it remains one of the most segregated occupations in the United States. “It’s okay to exclude people for loans or say we are not hiring Blacks, but the minute you try to attempt to fix it by race, people don’t want you to do that,” Boyd said. “You can discriminate in this country by race, but the minute you try to fix it by race, people don’t want you to do that.”

Statistics on LGBTQ+ farmers are less comprehensive, but according to a report by the Movement Advancement Project, an estimated three million or more LGBTQ+ people call rural America home. The report also notes that rural LGBTQ+ people are less likely to have explicit nondiscrimination protections and are more likely to live in areas with religious exemption laws that may allow service providers to discriminate.

A spokesperson of the National Future Farmers of America Organization commented on the situation to The Advocate.

“The National FFA Organization is committed to fostering a welcoming, supportive, engaging, and growth-focused environment for all students. We prioritize the well-being of our members and actively challenge prejudice while promoting a culture of inclusivity where every individual is respected, treated with dignity, and valued for their unique identities,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Tractor Supply did not respond to The Advocate’s request for comment.

“This is a massive victory for sanity and the single biggest boycott win of our lifetime,” Starbuck gloated.

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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).