As anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment continues to rise in the U.S. and with the introduction of hundreds of bills that could harm LGBTQ+ rights during the 2023 legislative session, it has become increasingly difficult for consumers to align their spending and investing with their values.
Many companies may claim their support for the LGBTQ+ community, yet continue to donate to politicians on both sides of the aisle, including those who work towards revoking LGBTQ+ rights.
A survey by Charles Schwab last year revealed that three-fourths of American consumers are concerned about the values of the companies they buy from, and 81% claimed that corporate values influence their investing decisions.
However, according to Americus Reed, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, it’s easy for people to report that certain issues are important to them, but when it comes to boycotting or ‘buycotting,’ individuals may not be willing to inconvenience themselves.
Putting Pressure on Companies
Fabrice Houdart, executive director of the Association of LGBTQ+ Corporate Directors and a consultant for Fortune 500 companies, notes that consumers have the potential to exert real pressure on companies. Houdart believes that if consumers were to unite, they could be capable of changing anything, referring to an old saying from his grandmother.
Navigating Purpose-Driven Marketing for LGBTQ+ Support
It can be difficult to discern which companies are truly committed to LGBTQ+ rights. While some corporations have taken significant steps to support the community, others fall short in areas unrelated to LGBTQ+ rights. This lack of transparency makes it challenging for consumers to know which businesses are the “good guys.”
Amid the trend of “purpose-driven marketing,” it is up to consumers to do their research and determine whether they feel a company is genuine in its efforts. Merely glancing at a list or index may not be sufficient. Instead, consumers who are dedicated to a cause should conduct scholarly research to make informed decisions.
Thankfully, various groups and resources track or rank companies’ support for LGBTQ+ people. Visualising such data is simple thanks to Google and search engines. For instance, the Real Allies Database, operated by the watchdog group Accountable for Equality Action, as well as GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), are excellent places to start.
As with any difficult issue, however, there are complications. For example, though HRC’s Corporate Equality Index provides businesses with high ratings for LGBTQ+ support, the organization does not take into consideration political donations. Some companies that have received high scores actually gave donations to politicians who support anti-LGBTQ+ bills.
The Human Rights Campaign tracks legislation that prohibits gender-affirming care, anti-transgender bathroom bills, anti-LGBTQ+ curriculum-censorship bills, and drag-performance bans.
LGBTQ+ Advocacy Groups Criticized for Corporate Influence
Several LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have come under fire for their willingness to work with corporations, despite evidence of harm to the LGBTQ+ community. In particular, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has faced criticism for its perceived coziness with corporate donors. As a result, HRC has suspended Anheuser-Busch’s score on its equality index due to the company’s non-committal response to transphobic backlash surrounding a Bud Light promotion featuring social-media influencer Dylan Mulvaney. The group has also criticized Target for moving Pride Month merchandise to the backs of some stores in Southern states following backlash and alleged threats to its workers’ safety.
As LGBTQ+ rights activist Deena Fidas Houdart notes, these advocacy groups could take a stronger stance by not inviting companies with anti-LGBTQ+ practices to events or giving them high scores on equality indexes. Houdart believes that corporate donations have influenced these groups over the years, creating conflicts of interest.
While the Human Rights Campaign did not respond to requests for additional comment, a spokesperson for GLAAD defended the organization’s track record of advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community. The group has created indexes on social-media safety and called out corporations that donate to them, including through their reports on film studios and political donations.
Despite GLAAD’s work, however, concerns remain about the influence of corporate donations on LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, and activists are calling for greater accountability and transparency in these organizations. Consumers Weigh LGBTQ+ Support and Other Factors When Making Purchases
As society becomes more conscious of social issues, consumers are taking a closer look at where they spend and invest their money. However, it can be difficult to find companies that align with all of their values.
While some businesses strongly support LGBTQ+ rights, they might have a poor record on environmental matters. “Fast fashion has been pro-LGBTQ, though it’s terrible on the environment,” notes Deena Fidas, managing director of the workplace equality program at the Human Rights Campaign.
Professor Frank Russell, who resides in Fullerton, California, with his spouse, shares a similar view. “Although my identity as a gay man is important to me… I also find it’s hard for me to be perfect about that,” he admits.
Russell tries to make purchases and investments he feels good about, but acknowledges that it’s challenging. As he doesn’t have the time to track individual stocks, he relies on index investing and thinks “the Nasdaq 100 is generally better in terms of being consistent with my values vs. the S&P 500.”
He uses tech giant Apple as an example. The company happens to be in both indexes, while oil giant Exxon Mobil is only in the S&P 500 index. “Apple is not perfect, but it behaves in a way that’s more consistent with my values than Exxon Mobil does,” Russell says.
It’s clear that consumers want to support companies that care about multiple social issues. However, finding businesses that align with every personal belief may not be feasible.