Buying equality

Posted on 22 Mar 2007 at 10:23pm
By John Wright Staff Writer

Advocacy organization urges LGBT community to spend at gay-friendly businesses; spokesman for Oak Lawn supermarket says HRC’s buying guide is flawed



Daryl Herrschaft

It’s widely known as the “gay Kroger,” due to its location on Cedar Springs Road in the heart of Oak Lawn.

But according to the Human Rights Campaign, a national civil rights group, the corporation that owns the grocery store may not be very LGBT-friendly.

In fact, in the 2006 edition of its annual Buying For Equality, HRC recommends that the LGBT community avoid shopping at Kroger if possible based on the group’s assessment of the corporation’s employment practices.

Although Kroger has an equal opportunity employment policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, the policy does not include gender identity. Also, Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., which is ranked 21st in the Fortune 500, does not offer domestic partner benefits; does not conduct diversity training on sexual orientation; and does not support an LGBT employee resource group, according to HRC.

As a result, Kroger scored just 35 out of 100 in the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, on which Buying for Equality is based. That ranked the chain 38th, or sixth from last, in the food, beverages and groceries category of Buying for Equality.

Gary Huddleston, director of consumer affairs for the 212 stores in Kroger’s Southwest Division, disputed HRC’s findings and stressed that the Cedar Springs Kroger historically has been very supportive of the local LGBT community. Huddleston insisted the company conducts inclusion training that covers sexual orientation and has cultural councils made up of a “cross-section of individuals.”

“I don’t think there’s a problem,” Huddleston said.

But Daryl Herrschaft, director of HRC’s Workplace Project, stood behind his organization’s findings. “We have given Kroger every opportunity to correct the record,” Herrschaft said. “At some point, it is incumbent on the company to provide us with the information that we need about their policies.”

Herrschaft said HRC has sent Kroger two correspondences a year requesting information since it started Buying for Equality in 2002, but has never received any response. “It may be that some of their stores are welcoming to the GLBT community,” Herrschaft said. “What strikes me as odd is that, for some reason, they do not want, apparently, to publicize the fact that they may have some of these policies. I think it would behoove them to open up a dialogue with HRC.”

Herrschaft called Buying for Equality one of HRC’s most important tools for pressuring corporations to adopt more LGBT-friendly employment practices. He cited several examples, including two years ago when Austin-based Whole Foods Market received a relatively low ranking. In 2006, Whole Foods Market got a 95.

“Within a week, the company had seen so many complaints from customers and employees that they contacted us and asked how to improve their score,” he said.

In addition to complaints, more and more corporations are being swayed by the LGBT community’s $610 billion annual spending power. In 2006, a record 138 major companies earned the top rating of 100 in Buying for Equality, a tenfold increase from four years ago.

Still, though, Kroger is not alone.

In fact, there are at least three other major corporations with stores in Oak Lawn that fall into the HRC’s “avoid if possible” category.

Perhaps the most well known among members of the LGBT community is ExxonMobil, which operates two On the Run gas station/convenience stores in the area, at Oak Lawn and Maple avenues, and at Wycliff and Lemmon avenues.

ExxonMobil, the world’s largest corporation, received the lowest score possible in Buying for Equality, a 0. When Exxon merged with Mobil in 1999, it rescinded Mobil’s anti-discrimination policy, which included sexual orientation, and eliminated domestic partner benefits.

Gantt Walton, a spokesman for Irving-based ExxonMobil, said although the corporation does not list sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination policy, it has a separate policy prohibiting discrimination against any group.

“Our policy is pretty straightforward,” Walton said. “There’s zero tolerance for any type of discrimination or harassment.”

Herrschaft said if that’s the case, ExxonMobil should “write it down.”

“The company is behind its competition, and it’s behind the majority of its peers in not treating GLBT employees fairly,” Herrschaft said.

Other corporations with stores in Oak Lawn that HRC said the LGBT community should avoid include Radio Shack, which scored a 40 and has a store at 4402 Lemmon Ave.; and Domino’s Pizza, which scored a 45 and has a store at 2615 Oak Lawn Ave.

“There are much better choices for electronics than Radio Shack,” Herrschaft said. “Domino’s has a long way to go.”

However, no other pizza delivery chain is in Buying for Equality, which illustrates one problem with the publication: When a corporation scores poorly, a comparable alternative is not always listed because HRC has not been able to obtain enough data. “We request information from more than 1,500 companies every year,” Herrschaft said. “Unfortunately not all of them respond to us, so we can’t give a rating if we don’t know what the policies are.”

HRC does have partial information for many corporations, which can be searched on its Web site. For example, although Pizza Hut doesn’t have a score, HRC has confirmed the corporation has an anti-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and offers domestic partner benefits.

Ditto for 7 Eleven, which sells gas directly across Oak Lawn Avenue from On the Run. Another LGBT-friendly alternative to On the Run is Shell, which scored an 85 and has a store at Oak Lawn and Lemmon avenues.

Oftentimes, though, alternatives are not so convenient. For example, the closest comparable grocery store to the Cedar Springs Kroger is Albertson’s at 3524 McKinney Ave. Albertson’s received a score of 85.

As an alternative to Radio Shack, HRC recommends Best Buy, which has a store at 9378 N. Central Expressway and earned a score of 100.

Herrschaft acknowledged there’s a limit to how far people will go out of their way to shop at LGBT-friendly businesses.

“We want people to make informed choices,” he said. “We’re not suggesting that you not eat, and we’re not suggesting that you run out of gas rather than go to an Exxon, but we want people to be informed about the companies they patronize, and if at all possible go to the ones that treat our community fairly.”

To view Buying for Equality, go to www.hrc.org/buyersguide.

E-mail wright@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 23, 2007

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