Exxon shareholders vote down policy change again

Posted on 27 May 2010 at 8:07pm
By DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

LGBT activists disappointed as percentage voting in favor of protections for LGBT workers drops drastically in latest vote

JOINT EFFORT | GetEQUAL and Queer LiberAction Denton staged the protest outside the Meyerson Symphony Center during the ExxonMobil shareholders meeting. They were joined by members of Stand Up Florida who driove to North Texas to participate. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

For the first time since shareholders were asked to vote on employee non-discrimination, fewer shares were cast in favor of equality than in the previous year.

In 1999, only 8 percent of shares were voted in favor of including sexual orientation in the company’s non-discrimination policy. That number grew at each year’s shareholders meeting until this year, when only 22 percent favored the policy change.

Last year, about 39 percent of the vote favored the policy.

Inside the meeting, a number of shareholders spoke in favor of environmental and social justice issues in the company. That included a member of the Rockefeller family. ExxonMobil is a direct descendent of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil.

Richard Miller of the Dallas Peace Center attended the meeting as a proxy for a friend from California.

"I stepped up, got to the mike and had my say," Miller said.

Miller also delivered a petition to the board of directors from GetEQUAL.

Mark Reed from GetEQUAL said his group posted a petition over the weekend asking the company to include the LGBT community in its nondiscrimination policies. He said within four days they had 3,300 signatures.

Across the street from the Meyerson Symphony Center where the shareholders meeting took place on Wednesday, May, 26, about two dozen protesters gathered.

GetEQUAL and QueerLiberaction Denton were joined by members of Stand Up Florida who had driven from Tampa for the meeting. That group demonstrated at a Mobil station in Tampa the previous Friday before making the trip.

Drey Zalaquett was one of the people who drove from Florida. She explained why she made the two-day drive.

"It’s something that really matters to us," she said. "I was once fired for being gay."

CALLING FOR EQUALITY | Mark Reed of GetEQUAL, right, said his group collected about 3,300 signatures over the weekend on a petition calling on Exxon to change its nondiscrimination policies to include LGBT people. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Zalaquett said she didn’t talk about being gay at work, but she did wear a small rainbow bracelet. The son of the owner asked her one day what the bracelet meant and she told him.

"The next day I was fired," she said.

Lee Nicora is a retired Southern Methodist University professor who carried a sign that read, "Exxon employment discrimination."

"My daughter brought me out. It’s the principle of the thing," Nicora said.
Reed was surprised about the outcome of the vote but offered a suggestion about why it happened.

"It’s shocking to see such a dramatic drop in support from last year," Reed said. "Shareholders who are pro-equality are getting rid of the ExxonMobil stock."

GetEQUAL has been pushing members of Congress to move the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the floor for a vote, where they believe there are enough votes to pass.

Reed noted a form letter that David Rosenthal, ExxonMobil’s vice president for investor relations, is sending to anyone writing the company about its discrimination policy.

"Where we operate in countries in which the national laws require specific language regarding nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity be included in policies, we have amended our policies as appropriate," Rosenthal wrote.

"The vote makes the passage of ENDA even more important," Reed said. "We need the government to step in and force them to do the right thing."

This year Exxon hired no counterprotesters. No environmental groups like Greenpeace who usually attends were at the meeting this year either.

A few shareholders passing the LGBT protesters indicated they would vote for the item.

Some made a few friendly jokes that most of the demonstrators must be in Houston in front of BP headquarters.

They were referring to the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that is the first oil-related environmental disaster larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.   

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 28, 2010.

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