missing the mark

Target + Best Buy Prove HRC’s Corporate Scoring Is Wholly Flawed. Is It Also Meaningless?

Both Target and Best Buy are pointing to their 100 percent scores on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index as reasons why you can’t hate them for throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars behind an effort to elect an anti-gay political candidate. Does HRC bear any responsibility for misleading gays about these companies?


Despite donating money to MN Forward, the business-backed PAC that’s trying to get tax hater Tom Emmer elected the next Republican governor of Minnesota, Target and Best Buy’s stellar HRC ratings won’t change one bit, The Awl‘s Abe Sauer discovers. How come? According to HRC spokesman Michael Cole, “It’s important to understand that the CEI is a measure of the workplace practices of a company toward its own LGBT employees. We don’t believe that rating companies based upon their political contributions is an accurate reflection of their commitment to LGBT equality in the workplace.” Moreover, “Unless the contribution is to a ballot initiative that is anti-LGBT (such as California’s Prop. 8 in 2008), political contributions are not factored into a company’s score.”

So listen. HRC is entitled to create a separate score for how a company treats its gay employees and not gays in general, because hey, it’s a reasonable thing to want to know whether working for a company will get you things like health benefits for your partner and job security if you’re open about your sexuality.

Except HRC’s own methodology for its CEI scores do factor in donating money to anti-gay causes. HRC just provides a nice loophole for companies to do it without any responsibility from Gay Inc. Sauer continues:

When I ask if this means a corporation would not be dinged as long as its anti-gay rights money went through a PAC or intermediary, Cole says, “That’s not necessarily true,” explaining that ballot measures are a “different beast” than candidate election. The implication is that as long as a corporation’s money goes through a PAC-like intermediary, its CEI will not be dinged for donating to a candidate, regardless of how anti-gay he or she was.

And there you have it: If a company’s money goes to into a PAC, which can choose to spend its cash however it pleases, then the company doesn’t see its CEI score fiddled with. Only if the company directly moves money into an anti-gay ballot measure will HRC knock it down a few points, as 15 points of the CEI score is derived from “Responsible Citizenship,” defined as, “Employer exhibits responsible behavior toward the LGBT community; does not engage in action that would undermine LGBT equality. Employers found engaging in activities that would undermine LGBT equality will have 15 points removed from their scores.”

There is no more plainly a violation of this clause than donating money to help elect a candidate who believes in marriage discrimination.

Sauer brings up this ultimate — and frighteningly true — example: “This means Target or Best Buy would not lose their perfect ratings even if their money made it to, say, Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern, who has compared homosexuality to cancer and is on record saying homosexuality is ‘the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam.'”

Take it one step further: Target could give money to a PAC that wants to elect Rush Limbaugh — and it would still maintain a 100 percent score from HRC.

And yet, despite not living up to being “Responsible Citizens,” neither Target nor Best Buy lost any of those 15 possible points. The Human Rights Campaign does many things wrong, including handling money, pressuring lawmakers, and missing opportunities mobilizing its “membership.” But we always gave HRC credit for spending some of the cash donors give it on research to provide quantitative scores about LGBT-friendliness in America. We always knew these scores weren’t perfect. Little did we know they were completely misleading.

HRC, plainly, is doing a disservice to the very community it represents by providing cover to companies that use the money we give them to lobby against our rights. It must at the very least re-evaluate the scores of Target and Best Buy and remove their 15 point “Responsible Citizenship” scores. Further, it should remove the loophole that allows anti-gay money to flow out in special ways that are immune to the CEI.

Later this afternoon, I have to purchase some paper towels and toilet paper, some more Crest toothpaste, and a new cushion for my outdoor chair. I will not be buying any of them at Target. And I certainly won’t be using a HRC Visa card during the transaction.

UPDATE: With an open letter and a full-page ad coming in Sunday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune, HRC is now calling on Target and Best Buy to “make it right”: “The very least you can do to begin rebuilding your image among fair-minded consumers is to make equivalent donations to groups that support candidates who will put all Minnesota families first and fulfill the promises of our highest ideals.”

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