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EDGE 10.0: A Decade on the Job

by Steve Weinstein
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jun 26, 2014

In celebration of our tenth anniversary, EDGE is proud to launch "EDGE 10.0: The Decade in," a retrospective series of features looking back on the past ten years of headlines, politics, personalities, trends, music, film, parties, etc... written by Editor in Chief Emeritus Steve Weinstein.

Since its beginnings, EDGE has been charting the LGBT progress on the business front. When it began in as a regional website back, it was more the exception than the norm for a business to include job protection for gay and lesbian employees. Since then, it's become the norm for businesses to extend such protection to trans employees, but to make the workplace gay-friendly. These days, many underwrite gender-reassignment surgery - something that would have been unheard of just a few years ago.

Back in 2007, EDGE reported that over one-quarter of LGBT employees reported having experienced discrimination while on the job, according to a nationwide survey. Nearly as many said they experienced such harassment on a weekly basis, with three-quarters complaining that the offender was never held accountable.

As a barometer of how dramatic the changes have been, EDGE has been using the Human Rights Campaign's "Best Places to Work," an annual report that scores Fortune 500 companies using several barometers. From 2005 to 2007, the list went from only 101 to 142, while the number of companies scoring 100 percent soared tenfold in four years.

It was cold comfort to the employees of the nation's largest retail chain when, that same year, Wal-Mart announced it would pull its support from LGBT groups only a year after joining the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. A corporate spokesperson had claimed that the position was in line with its policy not to "support or oppose controversial issues."

A Wal-Mart employee didn't see it that way. "Pulling funding from GLBT organizations is a slap in the face to gay employees," one wrote in an email. Out & Equal, an organization that charts LGBT progress in the workplace, remained hopeful. "This is a marathon, not a sprint," said the group's director.

By far the biggest holdout remains just that. As EDGE reported a year ago, Exxon Mobil is the most prominent exception. Not only does the oil giant continue its policy of not extending protections to LGBT employees, but also a group called Freedom to Work caught the company red-handed: It sent two nearly identical resumes for a job opening. The one with markers that the applicant was gay had somewhat better qualifications, but H.R. only contacted the (presumably) non-gay applicant.

If you think that’s bad, consider the giant Florida-based supermarket chain Publix. As reported here, it had the dubious distinction just this year in scoring a big fat zero in the Corporate Equality Index, also charted by HRC. A spokesperson maintained that the company was only following the law in states where same-sex relationships aren’t recognized, quickly countered by Equality Florida head, Nadine Smith: "They are to going to do anything that the law doesn’t require."

Another corporate baddie was the home-improvement giant Lowe’s. In 2009, the retailer agreed to pay $1.7 million three employees in Longview, Wash., including two heterosexuals mocked for being thought gay. "Severe sex-based harassment of young workers was permitted to run rampant at one of the nation’s largest retailers," wrote the chairman of the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

Lowe’s didn’t admit guilt in settling the case. In a statement, Lowe’s said it was "proud of our anti-discrimination policies." Lowe’s, however, scored only a 30 in the HRC’s most recent annual report.

As a textbook example of how much a company could right perceived wrongs, a 2007 article noted that United Parcel Service received a perfect score after criticism about its refusal to provide benefits to partners of civil unions in New Jersey. UPS’ score was in sharp contrast to its biggest competitor: Federal Express’ score remained static at barely above 50 percent. FedEx finally got on the bandwagon in 2012, when it finally began offering same-sex domestic partner benefits.

Even more dramatic is MillerCoors. As I reported here last year, Coors was the target for one of the best-known and most widely endorsed boycotts back in the ’70s, when Coors was family owned - and that family was one of the most prominent supporters of right-wing and homophobic causes in the country.

Today, I wrote, "MillerCoors is a model corporate citizen, with a solid 100" from HRC. Outsports named it a "hero" for its support for LGBT sports leagues and teams. In 2011 alone, the company contributed $382,000 to LGBT nonprofit groups and has been a major sponsor of Pride events across the country.

One of the most LGBT-friendly business sectors is tech. In "Queers in Career @ Out for Undergrad," Louise Adams wrote' target='new'queers_in_careers_@_out_for_undergrad|wrote> last year about an organization founded in 2004 to further LGBT students in tech leadership. "The professional is often personal," said the group’s founder, Kevin Prior at a conference held in New York City. "The more comfortable you are opening up, the better you are going to be working with people."

In 2013, Out & Equal published a collection of personal essays that chronicled the dramatic progress that had been made in the past 20 years. "Out and Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office" was a clarion call to continue the struggle as well as a celebration.

"It is still legal to discriminate against LGBT employees in 29 states," wrote Elaine Beale. "While those of us who live in the more enlightened metropolitan areas might not experience the levels of discrimination common 10 or 20 years ago, there are many places where leaving the closet will certainly cut short your career trajectory to the corner office; it could even land you in the unemployment line."

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).


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