Florida church boycotts Pepsi over sponsorship of LGBT events

by Joseph Erbentraut

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday September 16, 2009

When the Bell Shoals Baptist Church of Brandon chose to remove its 10 Pepsi soda vending machines from its premises to boycott the company's efforts to help "establish a homosexual activist group" earlier this month, the action received national media attention.

Bell Shoals' boycott of PepsiCo and its support of Chicago's Citywide Pride events and other LGBT causes is part of a nationwide effort being led by the American Family Association. It is the latest of a series of boycotts launched against companies some social conservatives contend promote what they routinely describe as the homosexual agenda. And Justin Nelson, president of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce pointed out similar campaigns have criticized Disney, American Airlines, McDonald's and other companies.

Nelson described these boycott efforts of the AFA and other "fringe" groups as a "boycott of the week." He said the Bell Shoals Church and other local congregations' decision to replace the Pepsi products with equally pro-gay Coke machines was"absurd." And White added he did not feel the boycott would make much of an impact on Pepsi's decision to reach out to LGBT consumers.

"Anytime you continually do something, your effort begins to lose steam and over the last five years these organizations have upped their visibility" Nelson said. "But the vast majority of companies are continuing to move in the direction of equality, diversity and inclusion because it makes good business sense. It's not a culture war."

Nelson spoke of only one recent example--McDonald's--where a company caved under pressure as a result of a boycott from the right. The fast-food chain discontinued its support of the NGLCC and other LGBT causes last year. Nelson said American Airlines, on the other hands, have flourished in their efforts to reach out to gay consumers.

"More and more companies are getting it and are doing the right thing, ensuring they have a workplace that welcomes all employees, stores that welcome all companies and a supply chain open to diverse suppliers," Nelson continued as he noted the majority of Fortune 100 companies offer domestic partner benefits to same-sex partners. "They are realizing what diversity is, and it's really not a radical thought."

In response to the boycott, PepsiCo has avoided speaking extensively to EDGE and other media. The company did issue a statement that read "[at] PepsiCo, we believe that diversity and equality are benchmarks of our business, and we work hard to foster an inclusive environment where all our employees feel comfortable."

R. Zeke Fread, director of Pride Tampa Bay, is part of a letter-writing campaign he hopes will elicit a more specific response from PepsiCo. He described those behind the local boycott effort as "religious fanatics." And Fread added he has received many e-mail messages from those affiliated with other Christian groups who opposed the PepsiCo boycott.

"They have declared a culture war against the LGBT community and they aren't being true Christians," he said. "The true Christians are the ones jumping off the boat and saying, 'We don't support these people,'" Fread said. "Switching to Coke machines is not going to change anyone's hearts and minds. Their war is lost."

Fread said he is unaware of other religious groups making similar efforts. He added a local effort is building for a pro-Pepsi rally in downtown Tampa, which is located less than 10 miles to the west of Brandon.

"We can ill afford to let the voices of the anti-gay, ultra-right conservatives to be the only ones heard, we have to have ours heard too," Fread said.

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to www.joe-erbentraut.com to read more of his work.

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