Publix’s dirty little secret: It doesn’t care about LGBT people

There are companies that embrace gay customers (footnote 1). There are companies that actively work against or overtly discriminate against gay customers (footnote 2). And, in the middle, there is Publix Super Markets, which simply ignores gay customers. That’s just offensive.

The 84-year-old grocery chain, which operates in the Southeast, has a cult-like following. Ask any customer about Publix, and you’re sure to hear about cleanliness, convenience, and the chicken tender sub sandwiches. Publix has won numerous awards, including Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

But, as my husband and I discovered last year, Publix scores a big fat zero in the Human Rights Campaign’s Buying for Workplace Equality guide. Zero. Not a low score — no score at all. That means only one of two things: Publix has draconian, archaic laws about LGBT employees, or it doesn’t think enough of LGBT employees and customers to participate.

I tweeted Publix a few months ago to ask which it was. They said they simply decline to participate in the survey because they’re asked to participate in too many surveys.

Of course a company like Publix is asked to participate in a lot of surveys. And it clearly does participate in a lot of surveys — otherwise it wouldn’t have won all those awards. But what does it say to LGBT customers when the company declines to participate in a survey about LGBT workplace equality? It means that the company doesn’t care about them.

I followed up my original tweet with one asking if Publix includes sexual orientation in its workplace discrimination policy. It said that yes, it did. Then I asked if they had domestic partner benefits for LGBT employees.

The answer is perplexing: Publix says it doesn’t have domestic partner benefits because it doesn’t operate in any states with marriage equality —

This only proves that Publix doesn’t understand the entire point behind domestic partner benefits. Forward-thinking companies began embracing these benefits for the explicit reason that their LGBT employees could not get married. These employees work just as hard, so why should they get fewer benefits? It’s like paying LGBT employees less for the same work. Apparently, no one in Publix’s HR department understands this. (If someone at Publix is indeed reading this, they should check out the HRC’s domestic partner benefits primer.)

If Publix refuses to participate in a LGBT survey, and it doesn’t offer domestic partner benefits, what else does the company do to ignore LGBT employees and customers? Does it offer an LGBT employee resource group? (Probably not.) Does it contribute to LGBT causes? (Again, I would guess not.) Does it participate in LGBT events? (I haven’t seen the Publix logo at St. Pete Pride or the Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.)

Publix is sending a clear message to its LGBT customers: “We simply don’t care about you.” And that’s a shortsighted approach for a company that’s trying to grow. LGBT adults represent $830 billion in spending power, and study after study shows that given a choice they will spend that money with companies that embrace their values.

My husband and I stopped shopping at Publix a while ago. And, you know what, we’ve found other grocery stores that are clean, convenient, and make delicious subs (footnote 3). Not all of these places score highly on the HRC survey, but at least they care enough about their LGBT customers and employees to participate (footnote 4).


1. Like American Airlines
2. Like Chick-fil-A, or this company.
3. And we have saved a lot of money. Publix isn’t known for its low prices.
4. Soon, Publix will be forced to offer equal benefits to its LGBT employees. Marriage equality is sweeping the nation. It will come last to the South, but it is definitely coming here. When it happens, Publix can no longer claim it won’t offer equal benefits because it operates in states without marriage equality!

Tears of a Klein

I don’t feel sorry at all for Aaron and Melissa Klein. The owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Oregon were brought to tears recently at a right-wing summit, after explaining that they were fined $150,000 for refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

You see, Sweet Cakes promises on its website that “Cake is what makes the day special whatever you are celebrating, birthday, baby shower, wedding, bridal shower, anniversary, holidays, or just having a special dinner with special people.” They might as well add “Unless you’re gay or lesbian, in which case you don’t deserve cake at all because we believe you’re twisted and perverted.”

Of course Sweet Cakes deserved its fine. When companies open to the public, they’re open to the entire public. They can’t pick and choose which customers they serve. We, as a country, have tried that before. It wasn’t long ago that restaurants relegated African-Americans to lunch counters, only serving white people at tables (footnote 1).

What if Sweet Cakes had refused to make a wedding cake because the customers were an interracial couple? Or because they were Jewish or Muslim? To me, it’s all the same thing — discrimination. The Kleins might cite their religious beliefs, but that’s no excuse for treating customers unfairly.

The only problem with this fine is that it’s not big enough. There should be no leniency for those who would refuse service to others because of their prejudices (footnote 2).

Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

1. When my husband was growing up in rural Alabama, he lived near a Dairy Queen that wouldn’t even let African-Americans in the door. They could only get service at a walk-up window.
2. When my husband and I got married, it never even dawned upon us that someone would refuse service to us. Idea never crossed our minds. Every single vendor we approached was genuinely excited to work with us, as they had never done a same-sex reception before.

Crashing the conventional wisdom of wealthy gays and lesbians

The conventional wisdom for many years has told us that LGBT people are flush with disposable income, and, therefore, spend more on things like clothes, home furnishings, and travel.

This may not be the truth. In a new report called “Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for Being LGBT in America” (PDF), the Movement Advancement Project. The report says legal discrimination, lack of family recognition, and hostile education environments have led to legal inequality for LGBT people, which …

results in lower incomes—for example, due to employment discrimination or the denial of family tax credits. This makes it harder for LGBT Americans to save for the future or cover basic necessities like rent, food, and clothing. In other cases, these same legal inequalities burden LGBT people with higher costs for needs like housing, healthcare, health insurance, and education.

Poor LGBT people are noticeably poorer than their straight counterparts. The study says that 21 percent of LGBT people earn less than $12,000 a year, compared to 17 percent of straight people. The figures are even worse and more disparate for transgender people: 15 percent of transgender people earn less than $10,000 a year, compared to 4 percent of the general population.

This report is an eye-opener. It means that advertisers need to look beyond the traditional LGBT categories to attract LGBT customers. Many LGBT people, I suspect, are shopping at Walmart and eating at McDonald’s to save money. Those companies, and others like them, should reach out to LGBT customers and let them know that they’ll be treated with warmth and respect.


Who’s on the cover?


I see straight people

Listen, I have nothing against straight people. Some of my best friends are straight. Even my parents are straight. But that doesn’t mean I want to see them everywhere — like on the cover of LGBT magazines.

The husband and I got Out last week and discovered James McAvoy on the cover. Good actor, but not gay. A few days later, we received Equality, the Human Rights Campaign’s quarterly magazine. Jennifer Hudson is on the cover. Talented actress and singer, but not lesbian.

Why do I care so much? Because I turn to LGBT magazines to get something I can’t find in mainstream publications — news about the LGBT community. When a publication puts a straight person on the cover, it’s essentially telling readers that out of all the LGBT people profiled in the pages of the magazine, none of them did anything more worthy than the straight person on the cover. It’s a little offensive.

I know that publishers need to put people on covers that will sell magazines, but we’ve got so many LGBT actors, writers, politicians, sports figures, and artists to choose from today. Surely one of them deserves a spot on the cover of Out or Equality.

Root, root, root for the home team

I'm wearing a Super Bowl ring and standing next to the Lombardi Trophy.

I’m wearing a Super Bowl ring and standing next to the Lombardi Trophy.

Kudos to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, my hometown team, for hosting a LGBT tailgate party before the Rams game earlier this month. I can’t remember them doing something like this in the past. As a gay football fan (footnote 1), I really appreciate the outreach. However, I wish the team had done more to publicize the event — I’m pretty clued in, and I didn’t hear about the tailgate until today.

1. Married to an even bigger football fan. When asked how much of a football fan he is, he said “Shut up, I’m watching football.”

Richmond is coming out, and I don’t like it

The city of Richmond, Va., is rubbing me the wrong way. The capital of Virginia (and onetime capital of the Confederate States of America) has launched a new advertising campaign aimed at LGBT travelers. This campaign has even caught the attention of the New York Times.

To kick off the campaign, Richmond posted video showing off the sights of Richmond, with locals (Richmondonians? Richmondites?) extolling the city’s welcoming and progressive spirit (footnote 1).

Richmond also started a web/print campaign ad that features letters from Richmond to other cities (Atlanta, Washington, Boston).

If I were in Richmond’s shoes, I’d probably do the same thing. LGBT people want to go where they’re welcome, which is why we’re probably not seeing a lot of LGBT tourism to Uganda. Like many another travelers, LGBT tourists seek out places with unique character — somewhere that’s not crammed with the same Olive Gardens and Walmarts we can find at home.

So what don’t I like? It’s the campaign itself, which claims that Richmond is “coming out.” I put coming out in quotes because I’m offended by the idea that anything but an individual can decide to come out of the closet.

I still remember when I came out. It was such an emotional, sensitive, and scary part of my life. I remember that when I visited my parents to tell them the news, I had packed my suitcase beforehand in case I needed to leave their house immediately, and forever. I knew on an intellectual level that my parents would readily accept me (they’re staunch progressive liberals, like me) but the entire experience was so nerve-wracking I really didn’t know what to expect.

Telling friends and other family members was also terrifying. The best reaction I got was from my baby brother, whose first response was “Does this mean we can still go car shopping this weekend?” Some people treated the news with indifference. Others behaved differently around me, and I had to cut them out of my life.

Coming out is such a powerful and personal thing that I think it’s insulting that a city can claim to do it? Did the city have have to go through a gamut of emotions, from fear to joy? Did the city risk losing friends and family? Did the city have to go through the steps of coming out to itself, then coming out to others, and finally living openly and proudly? No, of course it did not. It just hired an advertising agency that thought it was doing something cute.

Cities can’t come out. Richmond’s new advertising campaign and video trivializes the highly emotional and sensitive process of coming out.

I have checked with friends who used to live in Richmond, and they say it’s it’s a complex place that’s a little hard to describe definitively because it’s proud of its heritage (footnote 2) and, at the same time, very welcoming and progressive (footnote 3). It sounds like the kind of place I’d like to visit, if only its invitation weren’t so tone deaf.

1. Please note the lack of diversity in the video. It’s over 90 seconds long, and only one African-American is shown — and she appears for a fraction of a second.
2. Should a city be proud that it was once the capital of a country that (a) went to war against the United States of America and (b) was founded entirely on the idea that certain people didn’t deserve equal rights? Discuss.
3. Direct quote from a friend: “RVA is an historic southern city full of contradictions. I’ve spent a lot of time there. Much of the population is diverse, quirky, edgy, creative, and somewhat anti-authoritarian.”

Booze clues

I read a while ago that LGBT people are more likely to order a drink by name, compared with straight people. That means that a gay man might order Ketel One and tonic (footnote 1) while a straight person might order a vodka and tonic.

I think there are two forces at work to explain this.

First, gay people are bombarded with alcohol ads. A copy of Out or the Advocate is littered with ads for many brands of beer and hard liquor. Compare that with People, where you won’t find an Absolut ad anywhere. In addition to print advertising, alcohol companies sponsor many LGBT events and organizations. Diageo (footnote 2), one of the world’s largest alcohol companies, is a platinum sponsor of the Human Rights Campaign.

As we’re learning in class, many advertising messages are often absorbed at the subconscious level. That means that someone doesn’t need to be playing close attention to an ad for the brand and some of the message to sink in. So even if LGBT people aren’t paying close attention to these ads, it’s only natural for the bombardment of these brands to affect our subconscious. Ergo, we’re more likely to order a brand by name.

There’s a second reason which is that LGBT people are more likely to respond positively to brands that advertise directly to them. Many of these alcohol ads in LGBT publications are specifically geared toward the LGBT community — they are not the same ads that you’d find in a mainstream publication. Absolut vodka, in particular, has targeted the LGBT audience for more than 30 years (footnote 3).

I believe LGBT customers respond most strongly to brands and products that appeal directly to them (footnote 4). This is only logical.

Here’s my experience: I don’t drink a lot, but when I do I ask for products by name. When I’m asked what kind of beer I want, I often don’t know so I resort to ordering a Bud Light because I know they’ve run LGBT-targeted ads in LGBT publications. I definitely order hard liquor by name.

As I develop this blog, we’ll investigate these topics more fully.

Now it’s your turn to chime in. What do you think? If you’re LGBT, what is your experience? If you’re straight, how do you respond to alcohol ads?

1. This is my favorite drink, in case you’re feeling generous.
2. Home of brands like Guinness and Ketel One.
3. What’s remarkable about this is that I can’t recall any specific Absolut LGBT-targeted ads, except for one that showed an Absolut bottle in rainbow colors, but I know deep down that it’s a LGBT-friendly brand because I’ve been exposed to so many LGBT-postive ads for more than 20 years.
4. My husband says that this isn’t necessarily the case for him. However, he responds negatively to brands that demean LGBT consumers or don’t provide equal benefits for LGBT employees. We haven’t been to Cracker Barrel or Chick-fil-A in ages.