How’s Your GLBTPCIQ?

By Lavender December 5, 2007

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How’s your GLBT political consumer IQ? Take a look at these competitors, and pick which of each pair is the more GLBT-friendly:

Lipton Tea or Celestial Seasonings
Barnes & Noble or Borders
Land’s End or L.L. Bean
Federal Express or UPS
General Mills or Kellogg’s

Chances are, you just made some wild guesses. But if you chose Lipton Tea, Borders, Land’s End, UPS, and General Mills, you guessed wisely.

The latest Buying for Equality guide from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), released at the start of this year’s holiday spending craze, gave Lipton Tea a steaming score of 100 (perfect), compared to Celestial Seasonings (maker of Wild Berry Zinger and Sleepytime, to name just two) with a tepid 30. For the third year in a row—which is how long HRC has been publishing the guide—the Borders bookstore chain (with a score of 100) outstacked Barnes & Noble (with 63). Land’s End earned a 100 over L.L. Bean’s 73. UPS this year hoisted its first perfect rating, besting the ever-lagging Fed Ex’s 55. And General Mills’s 100 score beat Kellogg’s 35 with a crunch.

The new guide, available free online, outdid itself from previous years, too—rating 519 companies, compared to 446 last year.

A record number of companies—195—earned a perfect 100, compared to last year’s 138. (And it’s interesting to note that only 13 companies achieved a 100 score in 2002, when HRC first began collecting data.)

The average score of all companies rated this year was 81.

Only three companies rated the worst score of 0: Exxon Mobil, Meijer grocers, and Perot Systems (the technology firm former presidential candidate Ross Perot helped found).

The ratings are based on how well the companies adhere to 11 criteria, including whether they have a written policy of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; equal benefits for employees with domestic partners; no use of negative stereotypes in advertising; and no policy of barring corporate contributions to GLBT charitable groups.

HRC sent its questionnaires to 1,806 companies in all, receiving responses back from 23 percent of them (up slightly from 21 percent the previous year). Of those responding, 98 percent said they had a written policy against sexual orientation discrimination, and 58 percent included gender identity. (Only 46 percent of companies included gender identity the previous year.) And 89 percent of the companies provided equal benefits to employees with domestic partners.

Some companies that have participated for the past three years have shown dramatic improvements in their scores, jumping from a “Red” category (which consumers are urged to avoid) to a “Yellow” (which is considered to be making progress) or a “Green” (which is recommended).

Haagen-Dazs ice cream rose from a Red category score of 15 last year to a Green 100 this year. The grocery chain Kroger jumped from a Red 35 to a Yellow 75 in one year. And Domino’s Pizza rose from a Red 45 to a Yellow 60.

According to HRC, the guide for last year was downloaded more than 250,000 times, suggesting a sizeable number of GLBT consumers care where they spend their money. And, according to the Witeck-Combs research firm, GLBT consumer dollars amount to about $723 billion in spending each year.

As helpful as the guide is for GLBT consumers who prefer to take their business to a GLBT-friendly store, it has complications and limitations, some of which HRC attempted to address this year.

Because not every company responded, the consumer is not always able to do comparison shopping. For instance, while McDonald’s fast food chain earned an 85 score, no score is listed for Burger King, Burger Chef, Hardee’s, Wendy’s, KFC, or Taco Bell. A footnote this year indicates that KFC and Taco Bell did not respond to the survey, but it says nothing of the other companies.

Of course, the HRC guide does not consider other factors that may be of equal or greater importance to GLBT consumers. It does not consider whether a company’s political action committee gives money to gay-friendly or gay-hostile political candidates. It does not consider whether a company’s practices may be unethical, or its products offensive.

For instance, Iams dog food earned an 85 percent from HRC, compared to Purina’s 15. But according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Iams company keeps its research animals under cruel conditions. Abercrombie & Fitch clothing company earned a 100 percent from HRC, but the Ms Foundation has urged a boycott of the company, because it sells T-shirts for women with such condescending slogans as “With These, Who Needs Brains…”

It doesn’t take much brainpower to put the Buying for Equality research into action, but it does take a lot of commitment—to go the extra mile to reach the store with the superior GLBT rating, and, in some cases, to pay the extra dollar for a product at K-mart instead of Wal-Mart.

By “purchasing products from companies supporting GLBT equality,” HRC President Joe Solmonese said in a statement releasing the report, “shoppers are sending a clear message that will directly impact a company’s bottom line.”

To download a copy of Buying for Equality 2008, go to www.hrc.org.

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