Vote this year on anti-discrimination policy makes it painfully clear that sympathies of most shareholders haven’t changed over the years
The failure of this year’s effort to force ExxonMobil to amend its nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity confirms what many of us in Dallas-Fort Worth had already figured out: The boycott of Exxon products by LGBT people never really caught on.
Although the shareholder vote to approve the yearly proposal had grown from 8.2 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2009, the nation’s LGBT community never fully embraced the Human Rights Campaign’s boycott of Exxon.
The annual increases in the shareholder vote were attributed to the owners of large blocks of shares, instead of significant increases in the number of people sympathetic to the policy change.
That became painfully clear this year when the shareholder vote dropped to only 22.2 percent.
As ground zero for the effort, Dallas-Fort Worth should have been the site of a leading movement in the LGBT community to force Fort Worth-based Exxon to change its policy by backing HRC’s boycott. That never happened locally, much less nationally.
Except for the yearly demonstrations by relatively small numbers of faithful people outside the Meyerson Symphony Center, the issue was largely ignored.
The demonstrations often evoked a lot of laughter and sometimes derision among some LGBT people who commented on the demonstrations each year.
For me, it was a surprise to learn the identities of some of the people who ignored the boycott and did business at Exxon stores.
I embraced the Exxon boycott, and I cancelled my Exxon card in 2003. I was baffled when I called the credit card center to explain why I was canceling my card, and the customer relations representative — whom I felt sure was a gay man — told me had never heard about the controversy.
If people connected so closely to Exxon are unaware of the boycott, it’s hard to imagine the information is widespread.
But even I found myself in a difficult situation one morning. I was headed to work, during a wind-driven rainstorm, from my Oak Cliff home to the Dallas Voice offices and saw my empty low fuel light come on.
I was forced to continue on until I could take the first exit off Central Expressway to search for a gas station. I was elated to find one immediately and quickly turned into it under the cover of the canopy.
It was only after I got out of my car that I realized, to my horror, I was at, of all things, an Exxon store. Short story, I used my Visa to purchase gas and hoped that no one whom I knew drove by and saw me.
I still avoid Exxon stores whenever I can in favor of Chevron and Shell stores, whose corporate employment discrimination policies do impress me more. But that’s not to say I have been 100 percent successful in avoiding Exxon stores because I do travel a lot.
I unfortunately am a little absent-minded at times and still do wait until the low fuel light comes on.
Such isolated events of course are not reflective of the issue. The problem is that the boycott just never resonated with LGBT people the way other successful boycotts did — like the successful boycott of Coors beer in 1977 over its anti-gay policies that have long since been addressed.
That boycott got some attention. Most gay bars quit serving Coors beer, and I wouldn’t have been caught dead drinking one. (OK, I lie. Occasionally, at a party I would drink one when everything else was gone.)
None of this is to say that the HRC-sponsored boycott of Exxon was not a valiant cause because it was. Unfortunately, it just never has had a real impact.
HRC officials, who usually are quick to publish press releases about the Exxon-Mobil shareholder vote, are taking their time with this one.
It will be interesting to see what they decide to do.
Maybe federal legislation, which is becoming more favorable to LGBT people in this latest era, will take care of the problem. The issue could die.
But for me, I’m going to keep on driving until I get to a Chevron or Shell station because I have a long memory. That is unless that damn low fuel light goes on before I get there.
David Webb is a former staff writer for the Dallas Voice who lives on Cedar Creek Lake now. He is the author of the blog TheRareReporter.blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 28, 2010.