Gay leaders reviewing company’s employment policies in wake of CEO’s contribution to Yes on 8
PLANO — Representatives from two local LGBT organizations said this week they’re pleased with the outcome of a recent meeting with the president of Cinemark Theatres to discuss the fallout from CEO Alan Stock’s contribution of $9,999 to Yes on 8, the campaign to outlaw same-sex marriage in California.
But activists in Dallas who’ve been critical of the organizations’ approach indicated they aren’t satisfied and said they believe the LGBT community should continue to boycott the nation’s third-largest movie theater chain, which is based in Plano.
Tim Warner, Cinemark’s president and chief operating officer, met Feb. 17 at the company’s headquarters with representatives from the Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance, the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce and the Resource Center of Dallas, according to CCGLA President Morris Garcia. CCGLA had requested the meeting, which Garcia said lasted for nearly an hour, in response to the controversy involving Stock’s contribution.
Garcia said the group laid out their concerns during the meeting and requested details about Cinemark’s LGBT-related employment policies. He said they now plan to review the policies and try to schedule a follow-up meeting with the company’s vice president for human resources.
"It was a very, very cordial — and what I would consider positive — meeting," Garcia said. "We had some good dialogue, and we left offering all our organizations as a resource moving forward.
Garcia said in addition to himself and Warner, the meeting was attended by CCGLA member Jeanne Rubin; Cece Cox, associate executive director over LGBT programs at the Resource Center; and Tony Vedda, president of the GLBT Chamber of Commerce. Cox declined comment this week.
"Our goal is to open a dialogue with Cinemark and see if we could help guide them into the corporate world that supports equality, like so many of our other local corporations," Vedda said. "That was our goal, and we were successful in starting a dialogue. It was, I think, a very successful meeting, and we’ll be continuing to work with them."
Warner reportedly was out sick and unavailable for comment. Brad Smith, Cinemark’s VP for human resources, said Wednesday, Feb. 25 that in response to a request from Warner, he’d sent copies of the company’s LGBT-related employment policies to Garcia.
"If the outcome of their review of the policies is more dialogue, so be it, but I’m not sure if that’s on tap, truthfully," Smith said. "I guess I’m not in the loop enough to know where we’re going with this."
Smith told Dallas Voice that the company has a nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation. Asked if he knows whether the policy also includes gender identity, Smith said, "Not off the top of my head."
Smith also confirmed that the company doesn’t offer domestic partner benefits to employees outside California, where it’s effectively mandated by state law. And he said the company has no employee resource group for LGBT employees because no one has ever requested one.
Asked whether the company conducts diversity training for employees that covers sexual orientation, Smith said, "I have no wish to go down this road further," adding that he only returned the newspaper’s phone call because Warner was unavailable.
"Mr. Stock’s position was his position and not the corporate position," Smith added.
Cinemark isn’t currently listed in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index because the company wasn’t large enough to receive a survey from the organization until it joined the Fortune 1000 last year, according to Daryl Herrschaft, director of HRC’s workplace project. The Corporate Equality Index rates major corporations on a scale of 0 to 100 based on their treatment of LGBT employees.
In response to the controversy involving Stock’s contribution, Cinemark issued a statement in November saying, "It would be inappropriate to influence our employees’ position on personal issues outside the work environment, especially on political, social or religious activities."
Stock is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which marshaled tens of millions for Yes on 8 from Mormons across the country last year.
In addition to calls for a boycott, Stock’s contribution prompted protests outside Cinemark-owned theaters in several cities nationwide, including Plano. But CCGLA, which reportedly has at least two members who work at Cinemark’s corporate offices, declined to formally endorse the boycott or protests, opting instead to pursue the meeting.
The situation highlighted internal differences locally about what the LGBT community’s strategy should be in the wake of Prop 8.
Israel Luna, a gay independent filmmaker from Dallas who organized the protest outside Cinemark’s Legacy Theatres in Plano in December, said this week he doesn’t understand why CCGLA didn’t meet directly with Stock to question him about his opposition to same-sex marriage. Luna also said he doesn’t regret staging the protest, which coincided with the opening of "Milk," the Academy Award-winning film about murdered gay-rights activist Harvey Milk.
"If it kept them from making $200, I’m proud of that," Luna said. "So far it’s more than what they’ve [CCGLA has] done."
Both Luna and Blake Wilkinson of Queer Liberaction, who participated in the December protest, said they believe LGBT moviegoers should avoid patronizing Cinemark-owned theaters — at least until Stock makes a public statement or apology, and/or the company amends its employment policies.
"Had there not been activists in the streets making a stink over this, I don’t think that organizations like the CCGLA would be able to meet with executives from Cinemark and then be able to make any serious demands, because they would have nothing to go with," Wilkinson said.
Asked whether they support a boycott of Cinemark’s theaters, Garcia and Vedda said that for now, they’d leave the decision up to individuals.
"The chamber’s not going to recommend that people do anything until we get to the end of this process," Vedda said.
Garcia and Vedda also said while they respect the approach of other LGBT activists and groups, they’re confident they’re on the right track.
"We’re all trying to get to the same place," Garcia said. "We just go about it differently."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 27, 2009.