Equality

Two years ago this month, the quest for equality by the LGBT community hit its stride when same-sex marriage was declared legal in every state in the union by the Supreme Court of the United States. On June 26, 2015, the case of  Obergefell v. Hodges made history in a decision heard round the world. For gays and lesbians in the U.S., true equality seemed within their grasp.
And then came Donald Trump.

Forget equality. The President and the GOP party he represents seem hell-bent on ostracizing, if not actually killing, the LGBT community. Trump’s slash-and-burn budget proposes massive and devastating reductions in funding for programs that gays rely on for their health and housing — not the least of which is the trillion dollars pulled out from under the bottom line of Medicare. In addition to seniors, the disabled and the poor, Medicare is the sole lifeline for many LGBTs. Add to that the $186 million reduction in HIV prevention and research, and you are left with millions of lives at risk — many of them gay, lesbian and transgender.

Yet, just as we absorb that reality, a rainbow is rising in the corporate world. In the 2017 Corporate Equality Index published by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, a record number of U.S. firms — some 515 — scored a perfect 100 score, the largest number in the 15-year history of the annual study.
The Corporate Equality Index ranks the nation’s largest employers on issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity in non-discrimination policy, domestic partnership benefits, transgender-inclusive benefits, organizational LGBT competency, and true public commitment to the LGBT community.

“These businesses know that LGBT equality isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes them stronger in our global economy,” says Foundation president Chad Griffin. “This past year, as an unprecedented wave of anti-LGBTQ bills spread across the country, corporate champions state to state — from South Dakota and Mississippi, and North Carolina and Georgia — made their voices heard and stood firmly on the side of fairness and equality.”
Among the corporations scoring 100% are the nation’s largest corporation, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., plus Chevron Corp., Apple Inc., General Motors Company, General Electric Company, Ford Motor Company, CVS Health Corp., McKesson Corp. (the oldest and largest healthcare company in America), AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Federal National Mortgage Corp. (Fannie Mae), Hewlett Packard (HP) Inc. and The Kroger Company (supermarkets).

It was especially impressive to discover that within the 108 companies included from the banking community, over 70 percent scored perfectly in the HRC report. Among those who topped the scoreboard in the state of Florida are American Express, Barclays Bank, BB&T, Capital One Financial Corp., Charles Schwab & Company Inc., Citigroup Inc., Discover Financial Services, Edward Jones, Fifth Third Bancorp, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard Inc., Morgan Stanley, PNC Financial Services Group Inc., Prudential Financial Inc., TD Ameritrade, TD Bank NA, U.S. Bancorp, Visa, and Wells Fargo & Co.

By comparison, other familiar banking institutions in Florida did not fare as well. These included Regions Financial Corp., and E*TRADE Financial Corp. scoring 85%, Bank of America Corp. in a surprise 75% (last year, the corporation scored 100%), H&R Block Inc. (70%), Fidelity National Financial Corp., headquartered in Jacksonville, plus Western Union Inc.  (20%), and CIT Group Inc. (10%).

The LGBT community has found equality within the airline industry as well. Perfect scores were generated by Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines Inc., JetBlue Airways Corp., Southwest Airlines Company, and United Airlines (with Continental Airlines). Virgin America (recently bought by Alaska Airlines) tallied a near perfect 95%. SkyWest was almost as strong scoring 90%, while Hawaiian Airlines bottomed out the list with a 65% score.

The apparel industry, which has traditionally been led by gay designers, is, as expected, all-inclusive for the most part. This includes Adidas North America, American Apparel LLC (no longer in business), Levi Strauss & Co., Macy’s Inc., Nike Inc., and VF Corp. (makers of Wrangler and Lee jeans, North Face, Nautica, and Timberland brands)—all scoring a 100% equality score.

Under Armour Inc., Brooks Brothers Group Inc., HainesBrands Inc., Ralph Lauren Corp., Aèropostale Inc., PVH Corp. (producers of Van Heusen shirts, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, IZOD, Arrow shirts and Speedo swimsuits), and Urban Outfitters Inc. were slightly lower, but still having an equality rating above 85%.

It was startling to see that Kenneth Cole Productions Inc, a major contributor to LGBT causes for decades, would only score an 80% equality score in the HRC index.
The automobile industry was led by FCA USA inc. (makers of Fiat, Chrysler and Jeep cars and SUVs). As previously mentioned, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Company tallied perfect equality scores along with Hyundai Motor America, Lear Corp., Nissan America Inc., Suburu of America, Tesla Motors Inc., Toyota North America Inc. all in perfect alliance with the LGBT community.

The disparage between equality and discrimination is most dramatic among major department store chains where Macy’s (that also owns Bloomingdales), Nordstrom Inc., Sears Holdings Inc. (owner of Kmart), and J.C. Penny stand tall with a 100% in favor of LGBT, while Dilliards, another store popular in the state of Florida, scores a low 20%. The discounter Target Corp., which features a Love is Love section among its merchandise also scored 100% for providing equal benefits for all its employees.

The rankings of corporations across America not only reflect where LGBTs may be able to find the most work-friendly job environments, but suggest where they should spend and invest their money, rewarding those companies that have proven through direct actions their willingness to push the cause of equality for all citizens.

“The nation’s largest employers have demonstrated through their actions that LGBT people are not just tolerated, but welcomed in their workplaces and communities,” reminds Human Rights Campaign Foundation president Chad Griffin.  “Even with all of this progress, we know that policies and benefits make up the crucial foundation, but not the totality, of what’s needed to ensure that LGBT workers can thrive from the plant floor to the corner office.

“Today, marriage equality and hate crimes protections are the law of the land. Barriers to LGBT service in the armed forces have been lifted. But the lack of consistent, explicit federal protections in employment, housing, credit, public services and other essential aspects of American life remain major barriers to full equality for the LGBT community,” he stated.

The climate of our government in Washington, DC, led by President Donald Trump and the Republican Party with its majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, stands in marked defiance of that inclusion. With each passing week, regulations are enacted and bills passed that pry away at full LGBT equality under the guise of religious freedom.

The continuing efforts by groups like the Human Rights Campaign Foundation serve as proof that the LGBT community will not bend in the face of resistance, and will continue to further mobilize to counter bigotry and bullying in all facets of life until full equality for all American regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, color, or religion will become a reality.
It has not yet happened, but the course is marked and the fight is clear.

Note: A complete copy of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation Corporate Index can be found at http://www.hrc.org/campaigns/corporate-equality-index.