NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer and non-governmental employer — facing protests over its association with homosexual activist groups — issued a statement Nov. 21 that it would “not make corporate contributions to support or oppose highly controversial issues unless they directly relate to our ability to serve our customers.”
The American Family Association, which had called for a boycott of Wal-Mart during the important shopping days following Thanksgiving, called off the boycott. Even so, on Nov. 27 Wal-Mart posted its first loss in November sales in 10 years. Same-store sales, which the company expected would be flat, were down 1 percent.
Controversy erupted when Wal-Mart sent a $25,000 donation to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) in August, a move the chamber’s president said the retailer initiated. The contribution, according to a Los Angeles Times report, was to fund events and initiatives that will, with Wal-Mart’s participation, teach homosexual business owners how to become suppliers for the worldwide retail outlet. The American Family Association had said the move showed preferential treatment to homosexuals and condoned “same-sex marriage.”
Wal-Mart had contended that the partnership with the NGLCC was in line with the company’s efforts to expand beyond their rural southern roots into urban areas where shoppers are more diverse. A company spokesman also reported that Wal-Mart had partnered with other homosexual activist groups such as the Human Rights Campaign. Wal-Mart also recently made a $60,000 donation to “Out and Equal,” a homosexual advocacy group that supports workplace equality for homosexuals, and the company supports The Point Foundation, which provides scholarships to students “marginalized due to sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity.”
Although the AFA said it was “pleased with the announcement” and encouraged its supporters to send thank you letters to the company, Mona Williams, vice president for communications with Wal-Mart, told Baptist Press the company will continue to donate to “specific projects,” though it would “no longer give donations across the board.”
“As with the chamber [National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce], we would not give them a blanket donation. But if they had a project or an initiative, such as hate crimes education or one about workplace equality, we would support that,” Williams said. “The statement we issued was the result of us listening to both our associates -– our employees -– and our customers. A lot of them had concerns. We wanted to take a more thoughtful approach. We wanted to listen to both sides and our statement is a result of that.”
Asked if Wal-Mart’s policies toward homosexual groups were a departure from their traditional, family oriented values, Williams said, “Our values are constant, our values have not changed.” She also said recent protests by the AFA and other pro-family groups were not the reason for the retailer’s dip in sales in November.
As noted in its Nov. 21 statement, Wal-Mart did not indicate that it would cease all partnerships with the NGLCC or other homosexual-oriented groups. Instead, it said partnerships into which the company enters will reflect the makeup of communities where stores are located.
“We are working hard to make our corporate contributions reflect the values of our customers, communities, and associates. As Sam Walton said, ‘Each Wal-Mart store should reflect the values of its customers and support the vision they hold for their community,’” the company’s statement said. “Wal-Mart does not have a position on same sex marriage and we do not give preference to gay or lesbian suppliers. Wal-Mart does have a strong commitment to diversity among our associates and against discrimination everywhere.”
In recent weeks, several Baptist state conventions adopted resolutions challenging Wal-Mart. Alabama Baptists said in a resolution that Baptists should inform the retailer at the local and national level of their disagreement with the company’s stances on homosexuality and ask that Wal-Mart reconsider the affiliation with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. The resolution also called for Baptists in that state to pray for the retail chain’s key leaders.
Messengers to the Missouri Baptist Convention urged Baptists in that state to exercise moral stewardship regarding the businesses they patronize, keeping in mind that Wal-Mart in August asked and received permission to join the NGLCC in an effort to promote “diversity.”
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention adopted a resolution stating that the company’s once-virtuous policies had “contributed to a generation of Texans have come to expect and demand high levels of moral and virtuous leadership from Wal-Mart stores.” Today, however, the company’s corporate offices “have made it appear that the promotion of homosexuality is more important than their historic commitment to traditional family values.”
Randy Sharp, director of special projects with AFA, told Baptist Press that AFA would continue to monitor Wal-Mart’s contributions to homosexual causes. He also said that the decision to call off the boycott of the retailer after Thanksgiving was a “good faith effort toward Wal-Mart.”
“They realized they made a mistake and they are taking steps to correct it,” Sharp said. “They want to remain neutral in the culture war and we are confident they will do so.
“With the statement we can be assured that Wal-Mart will not be giving cash donations to the general budget of those organizations that promote the advocacy of the homosexual agenda. There may be programs about AIDS research and workplace equality, and so forth, that they will support. Although we won’t always agree with Wal-Mart’s policies, we are pleased with this recent decision,” Sharp said.
But Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy with the Family Research Council (FRC), said supporting specific projects directed by homosexual groups may “not be much of an improvement over giving unrestricted grants to homosexual groups.”
“For example, if they are going to fund projects which promote hate crimes legislation, we would vehemently oppose that because of the belief of homosexual activists that any kind of opposition to homosexuality is a crime,” Sprigg told Baptist Press. “We never said when all of this started back in August that Wal-Mart should treat any employee, customer or supplier differently, but when homosexuals are viewed as a special class there will inevitably be problems.”
Sprigg said the FRC will take a “wait and see approach” to Wal-Mart’s future charitable contributions. “We don’t call for boycotts, but we do call for consumer awareness. Some customers are still wary of Wal-Mart for reasons like this,” he said.
Wal-Mart’s statement Nov. 21 pleased the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which regarded the announcement as a reaffirmation of Wal-Mart’s policy of non-discrimination of homosexuals. A joint statement from NGLCC President Justin Nelson and CEO Chance Mitchell said the retailer had refused to pander to “groups on the fringe” that have had a “sustained campaign of misinformation about our relationship with Wal-Mart and our supplier program.”
“The initiative is about equal access, not preferential treatment and those on the far right know that,” the NGLCC statement said. “Unfortunately, these groups believe that distorting the truth would be a better option for furthering their cause than the truth — that this is about equality and ensuring a mix of suppliers that reflect the diverse customer and employee base of Wal-Mart. We look forward to our continued work with Wal-Mart and the many other corporations that look to LGBT suppliers as an additional pool of world class suppliers that are ready, willing and able to deliver quality products and services at competitive prices.”
The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, founded in 2002, boasts the support of several large companies. Founding members of the chamber include IBM, Wells Fargo, Motorola, JP Morgan-Chase, Intel, American Airlines, Ernst & Young, American Express and Wyndham Hotels. Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club are listed as “corporate visionaries” on the chamber’s website. Cisco Systems and Avis also are listed.
The Human Rights Campaign, which advocates equality for the “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender” community, has noted Wal-Mart’s recent moves toward homosexual equality in the workplace. The group gave the company a rating of 14 out of 100 in 2002, but by 2006, HRC had raised the rating to 65. The group said in its September 2006 “Corporate Equality Index” that the improved rating was the result of homosexual-friendly policies at Wal-Mart, including a recent change in the company’s code of ethics that broadened the definition of family to include same-sex partners. Wal-Mart said the move was an effort to step in line with policies in same states that had adopted laws regarding civil unions.
Wal-Mart gave more than $245 million to various charities last year. The company was named by the Chronicle of Philanthropy as the largest corporate donor in the country. Wal-Mart employs more than 1.3 million people in the United States.