A year after protests, Cinemark to offer benefits

Posted on 25 Oct 2009 at 6:09pm
By John Wright | News Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Company’s CEO angered LGBT rights advocates with donation to Prop 8 efforts in California

PLANO — A year after CEO Alan Stock’s contribution to Yes on 8 prompted gay-rights protests and boycotts, Cinemark Theatres is reportedly set to begin offering domestic partner benefits to employees.

A spokesman for Plano-based Cinemark, the world’s third-largest movie theater chain, didn’t return phone calls seeking comment by press time. But both the founder of the San Francisco Movie Bears and the president of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce said this week they’ve heard from reliable sources within the company that the DP benefits will take effect Jan. 1.

The New York Times recently reported on its Bay Area Blog that the San Francisco Movie Bears, a gay group with about 800 members, is calling off its yearlong boycott of Cinemark in response to the company’s apparent decision to add DP benefits.

Movie Bears founder Dave Hayes, a former Dallas resident, told the Voice this week that the boycott has cost Cinemark at least $20,000 in ticket sales alone from the group’s weekly outings, which were moved to a nearby venue owned by AMC Theatres.

Asked whether he thinks offering DP benefits makes up for Stock’s contribution of $9,999 to Yes on 8, Hayes said, "No, it sure does not. But it’s a start."

"It’s a step in the right direction," he said, adding that he’s unsure whether the group’s boycott was a factor in Cinemark’s decision to offer DP benefits.

"We were definitely really proud of the impact we did have, and we’re proud that people listened and were with us on this," he said.

Hayes added that he plans to write a follow-up letter to the company requesting a formal apology for Stock’s contribution.

Stock is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which marshaled tens of millions of dollars from Mormons around the country for Yes on 8, the 2008 campaign to outlaw same-sex marriage in California.

Although Stock’s contribution was hardly the largest to Yes on 8, even from Texas, it was among the most publicized, given that he heads a large retail chain that made a prime target for LGBT activists.

In addition to the group’s boycott, Movie Bears member Justin Green launched a national online effort called "No Milk for Cinemark," which coincided with the release of "Milk," the biopic about gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk.

People were encouraged to avoid seeing "Milk" at Cinemark-owned theaters, some of which became the site of LGBT demonstrations, including the company’s Legacy Theatres in Plano.

Israel Luna, a gay independent filmmaker from Dallas who organized the Plano protest, noted this week that despite the decision to offer DP benefits, Stock has remained silent about his contribution to Yes on 8.

"Good for them for changing that little policy, but I still want to know what Alan Stock has to say," Luna said. "As far as my protest went, it had very little to do with the benefits and all that stuff. It was the hypocrisy of Alan Stock and the theater."

The Cinemark flap also highlighted a growing rift within the local LGBT community, with groups openly disagreeing about the most effective method for responding to Stock’s contribution.

The Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance, the local LGBT equality group, refused to endorse Luna’s protest.

Instead, CCGLA and the North Texas GLBT Chamber pursued a more behind-the-scenes approach, arranging a meeting with Cinemark representatives that took place in February.

Vedda, who was part of the contingent that met with company president Tim Warner, reitereated this week that the meeting was positive and productive. However, Vedda said he couldn’t take credit for the company’s decision to offer DP benefits.

"We had been told at the time that that was something they were looking at," Vedda said. "My guess is they finished their research and did it [added DP benefits] at the new calendar year."

Vedda added that regardless of what prompted the company to offer DP benefits, he’s proud to have another major North Texas-based employer join the ranks of LGBT-friendly companies. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 59 percent of companies in the Fortune 500 now offer

DP benefits. Vedda said he plans to approach Cinemark about joining the North Texas GLBT Chamber.

"I think it shows that North Texas is a progressive place, that we do care about equality, and that the image that tends to be held of Texas in general, including North Texas, is generally false," Vedda said.

"I think it’s a great thing mostly for the employees of Cinemark," he added. "That’s who this is a real victory for."

CCGLA President Morris Garcia, who also attended the February meeting with Warner, called Cinemark’s decision to offer DP benefits "wonderful news," adding that some CCGLA members work at the company’s corporate headquarters.

Garcia acknowledged that the situation last year was trying for CCGLA, a six-year-old group that’s struggling to make inroads in a conservative county.

"My stand is still that we have different methods for trying to achieve the same goals," Garcia said, referring to the internal LGBT rift. "Neither one is right, and neither one is wrong. The ultimate goal is that the employees are winning at Cinemark."

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 27, 2009.

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