Ranking the Christian Right's 9 Favorite Companies
By Trudy Ring
Targeting the Faith-Based Consumer
After Target announced its policy of allowing transgender customers and employees to use their restroom of choice, a cry went up from the religious right, based on the debunked argument that such policies enable sexual predators to assault women and children. The announcement was a reaction to North Carolina's House Bill 2, which prevents trans people from using the restrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity, when these facilities are located in government buildings — so Target's policy doesn't violate the law, but it is a public stand against HB 2's underlying assumptions. In the wake of Target's announcement, a group called Faith Driven Consumer, which purports to represent "Christians who choose to live out our faith in every arena of life — including the marketplace," put together a list of retailers that it suggests its followers patronize instead of Target. But are these companies anti-LGBT? Well, not all of them. Click through the next pages for an analysis.
Faith Driven Consumer's number 1 recommendation is Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores, which scored 57 out of 100 on the group's Faith Equality Index. The index is set up in a manner similar to the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index on LGBT issues; the Faith Equality Index rates companies on a variety of criteria, attaching scores to each, and if a company receives the maximum score in every category, it ends up with a perfect 100. The Faith Equality Index criteria include "respect for, acknowledgement of, and compatibility with biblical teaching on sexuality, gender, marriage and family," either by supporting that teaching or remaining neutral; taking an anti-abortion stand or a neutral one on the issue, but never being publicly pro-choice; and providing "a safe harbor inclusive of religious freedom and practice in the marketplace and workplace."
Hobby Lobby is famous for its lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act's mandate to provide contraceptive coverage in employee health plans, in which the Supreme Court ruled that closely held companies can opt out of the mandate based on religious objections. LGBT rights groups have called that 2014 ruling a dangerous precedent, possibly leading to companies being able to opt out of antidiscrimination laws, or refuse to provide HIV treatment or transgender-related health care. As for Hobby Lobby's own policies, well, little is known about them. The Oklahoma-based company is owned by a single family and has no publicly traded stock, so that limits the available information. It is not included in HRC's Corporate Equality Index, which depends largely on companies voluntarily filling out surveys. It has been sued for anti-LGBT discrimination and in some cases found guilty, but companies with LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies have faced litigation as well, as some supervisors may enforce the policies imperfectly or not at all. One thing that is known about Hobby Lobby is that CEO David Green and other Hobby Lobby executives have been huge donors to anti-LGBT and anti-abortion causes, including the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom and the effort to pass a "license to discriminate" bill in Arizona, ultimately vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer, in 2014. In 2012, Forbes called Green "the largest individual donor to evangelical causes in America." So Hobby Lobby may be a good fit for Faith Driven Consumer's followers — for LGBT Americans, not so much.
Walmart, a major competitor to Target, gets a score of 51 on the Faith Equality Index, but it gets a 90 on HRC's Corporate Equality Index. The company, which has become notably more LGBT-friendly in the past few years, was prevented from getting a perfect score from HRC because it lacks a transgender-inclusive health care plan. Its chief executive last year even spoke out against legislation in Arkansas, where Walmart is headquartered, to allow anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of religious freedom; the bill was passed and signed into law, but the law was then softened after public outcry. All is not necessarily well at Walmart for LGBT employees; some have filedlawsuits alleging discrimination, including the denial of benefits to employees' same-sex spouses for several years (the company began providing them in 2014). Also, social justice advocates see other reasons to object to Walmart, including the low wages it pays, although these were recently raised somewhat, and the pressure it puts on suppliers to cut costs, often resulting in poverty wages at suppliers' factories, many of them in developing countries. Still, Walmart is undoubtedly way more LGBT-supportive than the folks at Faith Driven Consumer would prefer.
Discount grocery company Aldi scores a 47 on the Faith Equality Index. The Germany-based, privately held company — meaning its stock is not publicly traded — is not in the HRC index, and information about its LGBT-related policies is scarce. However, its Corporate Responsibility Policy, available on the company's U.S. website, sets this as a standard for suppliers: "We will not tolerate any form of discrimination in hiring, compensation, access to training, promotion, termination or retirement based on gender, age, religion, race, caste, social background, disability, ethnic and national origin, nationality, membership of workers’ organizations, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or any other personal characteristics." Regarding its own employees, it says the following: "We also believe in creating a diverse and inclusive environment where all our employees are respected and appreciated. Our individual talents, perspectives, skills and experiences translates into creative solutions and approaches to quality, low-price grocery retailing." It does not go into further detail about antidiscrimination policies — but what it does say is, well, better than nothing.
Academy Sports + Outdoors is another privately held company on the Faith Equality Index, where it gets a score of 46. Family-owned until 2011, the 200-store sporting goods retailer is now owned by investment funds managed by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. It's not on the HRC index, but its ethics policy, as listed on the company's website, is LGBT-inclusive: "Academy believes that people work best in an environment free from harassment and discrimination, and that harassment and discrimination should not be part of Academy’s business. Our work environment should be free of harassment, discrimination, or other inappropriate conduct based on age, ancestry, national origin, citizenship, color, creed, disability, gender identity, marital status, pregnancy, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, veteran’s status, membership in, application for membership in, or an obligation for performance in any federal uniformed service, or any other characteristic protected by federal, state, or local law."
Cabela's, which sells goods for hunting, fishing, boating, and other outdoor activities, scores a 46 on the Faith Equality Index. The publicly traded company isn't on the HRC's latest Corporate Equality Index, but it's had some problems in the past; a few years ago it declined to answer HRC's survey and received a 0 on HRC's Buying for Workplace Equality Index. In 2014 a transgender woman who once worked at a Cabela's in Pennsylvania sued the company, saying she encountered hostility after coming out and was eventually fired. Her case is still pending. In 2015 Cabela's did settle a discrimination complaint brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by agreeing to improve its recruitment and hiring practices regarding minorities of all types. The company's website makes reference to "continuing efforts to foster an inclusive culture that encourages growth, appreciates differences, allows us to better understand our customers and attracts a more diverse workforce." So the environment for LGBT employees could be improving.
Toys ”R” Us
The Faith Equality Index gives Toys "R" Us a score of 45. But the company gets a higher, although not perfect, score on HRC's Corporate Equality Index: 78. It lacks a trans-inclusive health insurance policy and scores low on organizational efforts to foster inclusion, such as diversity training. But it does have inclusive nondiscrimination policies and other advantages. And in 2012 it ran afoul of the far-right One Million Moms for prominently displaying a Life With Archie comic book featuring popular character Kevin Keller's wedding to his same-sex partner. The company refused to take the comic down, and the issue eventually sold out its print run. Toys "R" Us has come a long way since the early 2000s, when three transgender customers sued over violent harassment they said they faced at one of the company's stores in Brooklyn, N.Y. They won their suit.
Photo: AP PHOTO
Bed, Bath, & Beyond
The Faith Equality Index gives Bed, Bath, & Beyond a 44 score, and that's higher than it scores in the HRC index, with a 20 — inclusive nondiscrimination policies for U.S. operations (companies get more points for global policies) but no points for benefits, diversity training, or other criteria. The company's nondiscrimination statement is available on its website.
Dick’s Sporting Goods
Dick's Sporting Goods, which gets a 42 on the Faith Equality Index, isn't a good choice for LGBT customers, according to the HRC, which gives it only a 20 score — it has inclusive nondiscrimination policies for U.S. operations only, and it scores 0 on benefits, diversity training, and other measures.
Publix Super Markets, which has a 40 score on the Faith Equality Index, gets a score of 20, for its U.S.-only nondiscrimination protections, in the latest HRC index, up from a big fat 0 in the previous one. In 2013 a Miami New Times article documented LGBT employees' complaints about the largely Southern chain; things may be improving.
Trader Joe's, which gets a 40 on the Faith Equality Index, is also beloved by LGBT people — you'll find plenty of us among the health-conscious crowd that loves TJ's natural foods and low prices. And no, not all the customers wear Birkenstocks and drive Volvos, but certainly some of them do. But does Trader Joe's love its LGBT customers and employees back? A subsidiary of Aldi, TJ's isn't listed in the HRC Corporate Equality Index, and the organization's Buyer's Guide gives it a mere 20 score, for LGBT-inclusive U.S. nondiscrimination policies. The company is famously secretive, so you might have to get the inside dope from an employee the next time you're buying hummus or Two Buck Chuck.