HRC's Buying Guide: Is 'Shopping Gay' Really Possible?

By Walter Armstrong

Right in time for Black Friday—the post-Thanksgiving shopping orgy that begins with Americans of all genders and sexualities camping out at Wal-Mart the night before and culminates in stampedes, shootings and other blood sports—the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released its second-annual "Buying for Equality" consumer guide.

You wouldn't know it from the name of the organization (or, for that matter, the name of the guide), but HRC IS A BIG, OLD HOMO GROUP! Located in the shadow of the White House and dedicated to lobbying for gay causes, our nation's oldest and largest gay-advocacy group likes to keep its identity and its politics a little too much on the down low for the tastes of many activists.

Its conflict with other GLBT activists aside, HRC is very vocal when it comes to money, and how you should spend it (one suggestion it always offers: give it to HRC). And it has deployed its financial smarts to produce this helpful little shopping guide. "Buying for Equality" compares and contrasts hundreds of products and services, brand names and retail outlets, not on the basis of anything as mundane as quality or price but on the basis of the particular company's GLBT workplace policies and practices. Plus, it presents its socially responsible—and, for gays, community-spirited, even self-interested—consumer advice in an easy-to-read, color-coded format.

"Every single day, those who support equality have an opportunity to vote and put their values into action by utilizing their pocketbooks," said HRC prez Joe Solmonese in announcing the guide. "Our community has billions of dollars worth of buying power and we intend to use it this holiday season. By purchasing products from companies supporting GLBT equality, you are sending a message that will be heard loud and clear."

The rankings are based on HRC's Corporate Equality Index, a truly daunting list of very specific criteria such as nondiscrimination policies covering sexual orientation and gender identity, domestic-partner benefits, and inclusion of transgender-wellness benefits in health insurance policies. According to Solmonese, 138 companies received a perfect 100 percent score this year—a whopping tenfold increase in a mere four years.

Call it "shopping gay." There's no doubt that GLBT buying power would be massive if it could be mobilized around a single issue or cause. According to Wes Combs, president of Wes Combs Communications, there are 15 million of us over 18 years with $641 billion in income to dispose of every year.

But that's a big if. As a lifestyle guide, which is what any consumer advice ultimately is, "Buying for Equality" is pretty rigid in its recommendations, and it's hard to imagine that GLBT people will want or be able to follow all of them. It's true that some socially responsible choices pose no conflict...

Gas: "Need to fill 'er up? Make a stop at BP and Shell station. Drive by Exxon Mobil, which scores a 0." (These jaunty quotes are from the guide.) After all, a commodity is a commodity, right?

But food? "It's not delivery, it's DiGiorno. Domino's scores only a 45, while Kraft Foods' DiGiorno gets 100 percent." Give me the homophobic slice with extra cheese, please. OK, maybe we can switch pizza choices, but will we be able to drop the Ben & Jerry's, which scores a yellow 50, or Hershey (maker of Almond Joy, Twizzlers, and Kit Kat, among other must-have movie choices), also a yellow 50?

Toughest to follow for many gay men will be HRC's clothing recommendation. Gap got a green, or 100 percent, score, while Abercrombie & Fitch lagged behind with a yellow for 50 percent. Does HRC really think hordes of gay Americans will boycott A&F this holiday season because the company doesn't offer sex-reassignment therapy to transgender employees (it does, however, offer domestic partner benefits, has a written non-discrimination policy covering sexual orientation in its employee handbook, and offers diversity training on sexual orientation... not to mention its homoerotic advertising)? Sorry, but I have my principles—and they aren't very deep!

Whether or not the GBLT community will be able to follow it, "Buying for Equality" is fun and informative to flip through, like a game of "How Good to Gays Is the Brand?" Check it out at