HOLMES REPORT: Gay-friendly companies face harsh reality of US life as Christian groups wield influence

A couple of weeks before the election - before people in 11 states voted in favor of propositions that give the government the right to tell people who they can and cannot marry - two conservative organizations announced plans to extend a boycott of consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, provoked because the company is "too supportive" of gay rights.

A couple of weeks before the election - before people in 11 states voted in favor of propositions that give the government the right to tell people who they can and cannot marry - two conservative organizations announced plans to extend a boycott of consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, provoked because the company is "too supportive" of gay rights.

P&G is only the most recent company to attract the ire of anti-gay crusaders - AT&T was targeted for trying to address the concerns of gay and lesbian employees, and The Walt Disney Co. is a perennial victim because of its failure to prevent homosexuals from gathering at its theme parks - but it has quickly become the focus of a massive publicity campaign. The American Family Association (AFA) says close to 280,000 people have signed on to its boycott. P&G provoked the ire of the religious right because of its support for a ballot measure to repeal Article 12, a 1993 amendment to the city charter in P&G's hometown of Cincinnati that prohibits gay rights laws. The company has donated $40,000 to the effort, which is also supported by the city's Chamber of Commerce, other large corporations - including Federated Department Stores - and even the local Roman Catholic archbishop. Supporters of the ballot measure feel the amendment has hurt Cincinnati's image and driven away business. Critics claim the company supports gay marriage, although P&G insists it has never taken a position on the issue. "They may not come right out and say it," says the AFA's Randy Sharp (obviously not familiar with the biblical advice on bearing false witness), "but it's quite clear that P&G is seeking to support the homosexual agenda. And the number one goal of the homosexual agenda is gay marriage, so I don't think it's a stretch to say they support gay marriage." If P&G took heat for its position on this issue before the election, the temperature will likely reach the boiling point now that evangelical Christians are taking credit for the GOP victory. Firms that refuse to discriminate against gays and lesbians - those that offer benefits to same-sex couples, for example - are likely to be accused of failing to understand mainstream American values. It will take a little extra courage for companies to stand up to the forces of bigotry in this environment, just as it took courage for companies to stand up for civil rights in the early '60s (when ballot initiatives banning miscegenation would probably have passed by equally convincing margins). Perhaps they can draw a little of that courage from the fact that residents of ultra-conservative Cincinnati voted by a 54-46 margin to repeal Article 12.
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 17 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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