Required reading: Marriage in Alabama

My brother-in-law Chris Shirley, author of “Playing by the Book,” (footnote 1), has written an op-ed piece for al.com (footnote 2) website about the importance of marriage equality in his home state of Alabama. Please check it out here.

An excerpt:

Those of us who survive often struggle with an underlying belief that we are somehow “less” than others when in fact we’re equally capable of every basic value, including love, kindness, compassion, integrity, and goodness. In fact, I think we’re drawn to human rights and kindness more than most because we understand injustice. To deny us the freedom to marry is to continue to reinforce this inequality, this stigma of being second class. We deserve to have every freedom that every other group in this country enjoys because, as JFK said, “the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

Footnotes
1. An incredible story about a young Christian man coming to grips with his sexuality. I’m not Christian, but this is the kind of coming-out story I wish I had read when I was younger. I highly recommend it.
2. The website of the Alabama Media Group, which publishes several newspapers in Alabama.

Baker, baker, bake me an anti-gay cake

I’ve written previously about anti-gay bakers who refused to make cakes for LGBT customers, claiming that it would infringe upon their religious liberty. Well now the religious right (footnote 1) by asking LGBT-friendly bakers to make cakes with anti-gay messages on them. When the bakers refuse, the so-called customers claim religious discrimination.

There’s a clear difference between the two sides here. The anti-gay bakers are refusing to make cakes based on who the customers are. The customers aren’t asking for any offensive messages to be put on the cakes.

On the other hand, the anti-LGBT side isn’t being refused because of who they are. They’re being refused because of the offensive message they want on the cakes. As the BuzzFeed article points out that the baker wasn’t promoting an anti-Christian viewpoint at all, and would happily bake a cake shaped like a bible.

By trying to portray themselves as the victims of discrimination, the right wing merely shines a light on the true victims — the LGBT community.

Footnote
1. Or, as I like to call them, the American Taliban.

Publix: A sign of things to come? (Probably not)

Publix Super Markets (which I have written about in the past) got a lot of applause from the LGBT community here in the South last month when it announced that it would begin offering spousal benefits to married same-sex couples.

Me in Publix, once again

Me in Publix, once again

It’s good news, to be sure, and my husband and I have even started shopping at Publix again (footnote 1). However, I wish this were a progressive move on on Publix’s part, not a defensive one. My contention is that Publix didn’t change its policy to be more fair to its LGBT employees, but because it didn’t want to find itself in court.

Imagine this: two Publix associates (one straight, one gay) get married. If Publix decides to offer spousal benefits to one employee and not to the other, isn’t that discrimination? Remember, these are spousal benefits, which nearly every major company offers, not domestic partner benefits, which are increasingly commonplace yet optional.

I asked my lawyer friends on Facebook whether Publix would be setting itself up for legal action by offering spousal benefits to some employees and not others, and there was not a lot of consensus. Some lawyers said that employers cannot discriminate against some marriages, while other says that companies can determine who does and doesn’t receive benefits. Since there’s some confusion, it’s likely that this issue will find its way to the courts — and Publix, a company very concerned with its public image, doesn’t want to be the target of a discrimination lawsuit.

Publix isn't touting the news on its corporate website

Publix isn’t touting the news on its corporate website

Whatever Publix’s reason for offering spousal benefits to all associates, I don’t think this move predicts a shift toward a more tolerant company. For one thing, Publix is clearly ashamed of its new policy, as it didn’t even announce it. Look at the company’s website and you’ll see that this news wasn’t even worthy of a press release.

For another, Publix hasn’t made any other overtures toward its LGBT employees and customers. It remains to be seen if the company will participate in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (footnote 2). I still don’t think Publix has a LGBT employee resource group, nor do I think the company is in any rush to begin one. And I certainly don’t think that Publix is going to reach out to LGBT customers by sponsoring LGBT-friendly events, such as Pride or the Tampa Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

Publix has taken an important first step, and I don’t want to minimize the importance of the company treating all its employees equally. What disappoints me is that Publix hasn’t indicated that it’s going to take any more steps in this direction. Prove me wrong, Publix!

Footnotes
1. Reluctantly
2. Publix regularly scores a zero because it doesn’t participate.

Shame on Saks! (Updated)

Until recently, chichi retailer Saks Fifth Avenue scored 90 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. That score is now in jeopardy, as Saks filed a legal brief that says it’s free to break its own anti-discrimination policies and not defend a transgender employee who claims discrimination and workplace harassment.

From the HRC:

Leyth Jamal, a transgender former employee of Saks, filed an employment discrimination lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 alleging discrimination and harassment/hostile work environment based on her gender identity. In a motion to dismiss the case and in stark contrast to clearly established positions of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Saks astoundingly claimed that the “Plaintiff’s discrimination and harassment claims fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because transsexuals are not a protected class under Title VII.” Additionally, Saks goes on to claim that they are not bound by their own corporate non-discrimination policies because “employee handbooks are not contracts as a matter of law.”

This is the sort of behavior I’d expect from a Cracker Barrel or Chick-fil-A, not from a retailer with a very good record of treating its employees with dignity and respect. There’s no Saks Fifth Avenue in my hometown any more (footnote 1), but if there were, I wouldn’t be spending any of my money there.

Update
Saks has backed down and now says the Civil Rights Act protects transgender people.

Footnote
1. The space once occupied by Saks Fifth Avenue is now a Dick’s Sporting Goods. Which is appropriate, because with this anti-LGBT move, Saks has become a dick.

Happy New Year from Out Marketing!

Goodbye, 2014. I’ve got a lot to cover here at Out Marketing this year (footnote 1), and I’ll be back with new posts very soon. In the meantime, enjoy this video from New Year’s Eve in Helsinki, where my husband and I rang in 2015 with the Finns (footnote 2).

Footnotes
1. Starting with my take on Publix’s announcement that it will offer benefits to same-sex spouses.
2. You got Finns to the left / Finns to the right / And you’re the only gay in town.

The truth about LGBT people: We do laundry

In Canada, Tide has started running a commercial showing an ordinary couple arguing about the laundry. I mean, an ordinary gay couple (footnote 1). I love ads like this, which show LGBT people in everyday moments dealing with everyday issues. These ads should remind straight people that LGBT people are just like them, even with issues as mundane as laundry. I hope Tide brings this ad to the US.

Footnote
1. A shout-out to my husband, who does the lion’s share of laundry in this household.

Hatemongers in the newspaper

IMG_0705I woke up this morning to discover that The Tampa Tribune (footnote 1) had run an opinion piece about a so-called “war on public religious expression” by the Family Research Council (FRC). The column did not identify the FRC as a hate group (footnote 2).

Whenever something like this happens, I have to wonder if the editorial board is either ignorant or hateful. If they’re ignorant, they’re eager to run guest columns without checking the source. If they’re hateful, they know fully well they’re running content from a hate group, and simply don’t care. They’re either ignorant or hateful — there can be no other reason for running a column from a source like the FRC.

Either way, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s Tribune, which likely will feature a guest column on racial issues written by the KKK.

Footnotes:
1. Incidentally, my former employer.
2. From the FRC website: “Family Research Council believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed. It is by definition unnatural, and as such is associated with negative physical and psychological health effects. While the origins of same-sex attractions may be complex, there is no convincing evidence that a homosexual identity is ever something genetic or inborn.”