This past Pride Month saw an explosion of rainbows on products from sneakers to snack foods, reenergizing the debate over whether and how corporate America should be involved in Pride. For me, two things come to bear here: My belief that companies should support LGBTQ equality if they are going to market to us — and the fact that my family would not exist as it does now if it was not for the benefits my spouse and I received from the companies where we worked.
I was employed at a large financial firm when she and I decided to start our family through reciprocal in vitro fertilization (IVF), using my egg, her womb, and donor sperm. The health insurance I had from my company covered all but the cost of the sperm for our two attempts, meaning our out-of-pocket expenses were hundreds of dollars rather than tens of thousands. Later, we were able to have me stay home with our son for several years because her then-employer offered health insurance for same-sex partners, long before any state (much less the federal government) recognized our relationship.
Ours is not the only LGBTQ family to have begun with corporate help. Many companies, even before marriage equality, offered financial assistance to LGBTQ individuals and couples not only for reproductive services, but also for adoptions, and gave them the same benefits as any other employee, including parental leave, child care assistance and more. For some people, corporate benefits were the only outside recognition of their relationship until marriage became a possibility for all in 2015. Additionally, more and more corporations are covering gender-affirmation services for transgender people.
On the flip side, even now, I hear stories of companies that make things difficult for their LGBTQ employees — for example, by not allowing a non-biological parent to take parental leave or not covering fertility services unless a person or couple can show medical need beyond simply not having both egg and sperm. And at some companies, even ones that profess equal benefits, LGBTQ people may still fear discrimination and choose not to avail themselves of benefits that would out them.
Nevertheless, some corporations are improving benefits in ways that show a deepening understanding of LGBTQ identities and the variety of family structures today. MassMutual has started allowing employees to define whom a “loved one” is for the purpose of taking paid leave to care for or grieve for them. Additionally, any employee may use MassMutual’s fertility benefits, without having to show medical need. And their gender-transition benefits are broader than most.
Employee benefits are only one aspect of inclusion, though. The Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC’s) annual Corporate Equality Index (CEI) also looks at corporate philanthropic contributions, support of pro-LGBTQ public policies and efforts toward an inclusive culture. Out of the more than 1000 companies rated in the 2019 CEI, 572 earned a perfect 100. And more than 200 major brands and businesses have joined HRC’s Business Coalition for the Equality Act, a federal bill that would offer numerous protections against discrimination.
Still, this doesn’t reveal the whole picture — and sometimes the picture isn’t pretty. Journalist Judd Legum, in his “Popular Information” newsletter on June 17 (popular.info), highlighted “nine corporations that received a perfect score from HRC but donated $1 million or more in the last election cycle to politicians that received a zero on the HRC Congressional scorecard.” In other words, these companies are donating to politicians who are working against LGBTQ equality. While the CEI does deduct points for “a large-scale official or public anti-LGBTQ blemish on their recent records,” those blemishes may be harder to spot if the companies donated to politicians because of an issue unrelated to LGBTQ rights.
My point here is not to debate the usefulness of the CEI, but to show that some companies both support LGBTQ equality and do things that work against it. I can’t say whether this is deliberate or simply the result of different parts of a big, sprawling corporation doing different things. The answer probably varies from company to company.
We are right, however, to look critically at any company that targets LGBTQ people as consumers, to see if it is simultaneously supporting and hobbling us. If it is, then we need to take action. We should point out when companies are simply “rainbow washing” products but have no real commitment to LGBTQ rights, or if they are backing politicians who are actively causing harm to LGBTQ employees and customers. We have the power to create change — the profusion of rainbow products this year proves we are now seen as an economic market that matters. Pride committees, LGBTQ advocacy organizations and consumers can all have an impact here.
Let us not forget, though, that many companies have done genuine good for LGBTQ people by providing benefits that helped us form our families and live as our true selves, by offering nondiscrimination protections and relationship recognition long before the government would, and by supporting pro-LGBTQ politicians and legislation. This is not to say that even some of these can’t do better — but let’s thank them for what they’ve done even as we ask them to do more.
I will always be grateful to the companies that helped my spouse and I start our family. I won’t give any company a pass if it works against LGBTQ equality, but I’m happy to buy rainbow-colored widgets from those who have shown themselves true partners for our cause. n
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.