Walmart and You

2.27.2013

By Lane Hudson

It’s time for the Walton family to consider the importance of Walmart's LGBT employees and shoppers

Corporate America has become a leader on issues of LGBT equality. Thanks to many things—including the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index and robust employee resource groups—corporate policies are usually far ahead of laws providing for the general LGBT population.

It has become commonplace for large, name-brand companies to take public stands for marriage equality, whether it be a referendum or a legislative measure, with a dozen blue chip companies set to submit an amicus brief tomorrow in the landmark Hollingsworth v. Perry case tomorrow. The corporate sponsorship board at LGBT events now reads like a who’s who of big business. Corporate involvement in Pride celebrations has become so prevalent that an effort was organized to ‘Take Back Pride’ and return it to its activist roots.

In spite of the seemingly countless companies that have joined the movement for equality, America’s largest private employer is headed in the opposite direction. Walmart has had many transgressions in the past that threatened its reputation, including leaving strip malls bare when opening newer, bigger stores; cutting employee health insurance coverage; and attempting to scare employees into voting against Democrats.

The company is also continuing to rack up quite a reputation as an anti-LGBT friendly company. A contribution by Jim Walton, founder Sam Walton’s son and current board member, accounted for 55% of the budget to pass a constitutional amendment in Arkansas to ban adoption by same-sex couples.  This is a scratch on the surface of contributions to anti-gay candidates and organizations, which include nearly every member of the Walton family and many members of the Walmart Board.

Walmart’s LGBT employees are also denied partner benefits and non-discrimination policies. It appears they will continue to do so until the law requires them to, as it now does in California and may soon require in Vermont.

It’s good to know they will at least follow the law when it comes to LGBT employees. Also worth noting is that Walmart was a contributor to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. When they came under pressure by rightwing anti-gay hate group American Family Association, however, they folded like a deck of cards.

All of these things together tell a story about Walmart.  The Walton family and the company’s board members lead insular lives. They have failed to understand the business case for LGBT inclusive policies internally or externally. This is likely because they have failed to surround themselves with anyone else who presents a different view from the ones they developed decades ago.

While the company has put millions into public relations campaigns over the years, it doesn’t change the character of the company that has been hardened since the death of founder Sam Walton. It really is nothing more than a REALLY big family-owned business. And the family members dictate the culture of the company.

While Walmart’s billions in revenue may tell them they don’t need to change, the pathway of public opinion and Corporate America is putting the company further and further into the past. History tells us that companies unwilling to change with the times are doomed to falter.  With stiff competition from Target and a renewed focus on protecting small business owners in cities all across America, it’s time for the Walton family and the Walmart board to reconsider the importance of its LGBT employees and the LGBT market.

With LGBT political power increasing by leaps and bounds, with LGBT buying power estimated at $790 billion last year, and with growing support from straight allies, if Walmart doesn’t start evolving in LGBT issues, they may see the beginning of a long decline into the dustbin in companies who failed to change with the times.

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