LGBT Lobby’s Latest Shakedown Is a No-Win for Companies
Making money is tough for businesses these days. Making friends is even harder. For most CEOs, Pride Month was already a lose-lose situation — celebrate too much and risk consumer backlash. Ignore it and face the fringe. But if companies thought walking that tightrope was tough, it’s nothing compared to the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) latest shakedown. Just how much power does the LGBT movement wield? The world is about to find out.
Corporate boardrooms are as tense as it gets right now, but don’t expect any sympathy from the Left. While CEOs deal with the two-headed monster of a tanking economy and woke backlash, every decision seems to carry extra weight. After the Disney aftershocks, more businesses are treading carefully on cultural issues. But that’s all about to end, if HRC gets their way.
As a thank you to companies who’ve spent the last 20 years turning themselves inside out for their extremist causes, the country’s biggest LGBT advocate is demanding more. Much more. It’s no longer enough to sell rainbow merch, offer benefits to same-sex spouses, pay for transgender treatments, open your bathrooms to both sexes, and hire diversity officers. It’s time, HRC’s interim president says, to go “beyond HR plans and benefits.” From now on, if companies want a high score on HRC’s “Best Places to Work” index, then it’s time that they “do even more,” Joni Madison argues. It’s time they take a stand in the public square.
To get into the LGBT movement’s good graces, CEOs will have to politically kamikaze, speaking publicly “against elected officials harming LGBTQ+ youth.” Like Lucy with the football, HRC is ripping the rug out from under Fortune 500 companies that have spent two decades ingratiating themselves to their cultural hostage-takers. Now, after more than proving their loyalty, the Left is raising the ransom.
Twenty years after HRC’s first Equality Index, when the group was lucky to find 13 companies willing to go all-in on their radicalism, LGBT activists are pressing their corporate luck. This new standard, two months after Florida called Bob Chapek’s bluff, demands that every business walk Disney’s plank. “We have a really, really aggressive political environment where we are being weaponized and politicized, and we need corporations standing up to humanize us,” GLAAD’s Sarah Kate Ellis insisted. Even if “humanizing” (otherwise known as “placating”) them costs the company everything.
It’s a tipping point, Justin Danhof, head of Corporate Governance at Strive Asset Management, agrees. “… HRC has been so successful in being the tail that wags the dog of corporate action, not just in Pride Month, but really 365 days a year when it comes to workplace trainings on LGBTQ+ issues and outward-facing events promoting LGBT causes… And so now that so many companies, the vast majority of them … get a perfect score on the corporate equality index, they need to set a new benchmark.”
Most telling, Danhof explained on “Washington Watch,” is HRC’s insistence that a company will only be considered a “bar-setter” if they’re nominated by their own workers. And what Americans have witnessed these last few years is the effectiveness of these small employee minorities, who, through sheer noise, manage to propel the CEOs of multi-billion-dollar companies to act.
In Florida, he pointed out, “it was a small subset of Disney employees that were screaming at management and the board to oppose Governor [Ron] DeSantis (R-Fla.) and the Florida legislature’s parental rights legislation down there. And so what HRC is doing is saying, ‘We need you, employees, [who] believe in our causes to somehow be even more vocal.’ So it was definitely a signal to the employee base that if you have conservative and traditional values, please be quiet. And if you back what HRC supports, speak up even louder. Make your megaphone even bigger.”
At what point do companies finally say, “Enough?” Joseph Backholm asked. When do they say, “We’ve written checks. We’ve been cheerleaders. In some cases, we’ve even sacrificed profits. You can’t keep tightening the winch and expecting more.” “I would like to see that,” Danhof responded. “It would take a bit of courage … since not only do these corporations listen to HRC when it comes to how they should behave, how they should treat their workers and the like, they actually fund HRC to tell them how to do it. … And it’s not just social media companies and Hollywood companies. No, it’s across industries. It’s defense, it’s banking, it’s travel. ... And so… this cycle is very hard and would take some corporate courage to break.”
Some CEOs have given up the thankless work of being HRC’s proxies, recognizing (finally) that the mob will never be satisfied. Exxon banned the pride flag. Netflix told employees who didn’t like free speech to find the nearest exits. EA Sports’ parent company, Electronic Arts, asked to review all June posts, insisting that they “may not be political in nature.” Slowly, companies are coming around to the fact that pride really is a presumption. Why step out on a limb to make an absurd point that there is zero market demand for?
In almost every poll (including Family Research Council’s latest), large swaths of Americans want companies to stay out of politics (including a plurality of Democrats). Add that to the economic crunch some of these outspoken brands are feeling (Target’s chest-binders aren't exactly boosting shares), and the strongarm tactics of the Left are in for a real challenge. When HRC puts on the squeeze, companies will have to choose. Will they profit or pander?
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.