How Madison Avenue Transformed Gay Rights
Fed up, I called the leader of the political action group that had orchestrated the rally and yelled into the phone, “We aren’t solving a thing with our people parading around in dresses and makeup.” He got all righteous on me and we argued a bit but then my points came out. “Look, if we want equality, we’re going to have to make room for an ice-pick-wielding lesbian. What’s the endgame here? A bunch of gay Gidgets?” I’d already seen the movie and felt if any particular group ought to protest it would be straight men. All it took was one look at this vampire and they turned stupid. But, words came out that surprised both of us and turned out to be prophetic:
“Besides, Madison Avenue will give the LGBT community equality, long before politics accomplishes a thing.” Today, here are a few bits of journalistic headlines from many of our most trusted business publishers:
- Forbes – “Companies with LGBT!-Inclusive Ads can increase sales by 40%.”
- Last year’s award-winning LGBT themed ads came from Tiffany, Campbell’s Soup, Lexus, Wells Fargo, Doritos, Nordstrom, Absolut, Equinox, and Macy’s.
A great deal of attention was generated last year when the “Bathroom Bill” in North Carolina made it illegal for transgenders to use the “wrong” bathroom. But, that bill led to the state’s $3.76 billion loss in businesses that either pulled out or scuttled plans to set-up shop move there. Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr were among the numerous artists that canceled concerts on-the-spot.
Today, some of the world’s most powerful companies are the most vocal about civil rights to the LGBT community as well as women’s rights such as equal pay. These firms include Coca-Cola, The Walt Disney Company, Google, Morgan Stanley and hundreds more. This is the power of the diversity movement that began in the early 90s and took hold as a common-sense idea and turned into a strategic powerhouse behind American business today.
It would take many years for a President to stand before this country and declare that our government did not have the right to dictate who we could love. But, before that watershed moment, Madison Avenue had done the heavy lifting.
The average age of today’s Senator is 61 years old followed by Congress with a youthful 57. While they battle over ever more fragile turf, the world of commerce has become the bedrock of positive social change in the United States of America.
For the old gays and lesbians that held up placards and came out at work, it took courage. I came out when I was 24 years old. At the time, insurance companies were in the horrific practice of “redlining” employers with gay men on their group policies. They pushed behind the scenes to get rid of these employees because of the blight of AIDS. My way of dealing with the circumstances was to make sure I was bringing in more business than anyone else. Perhaps that is where I connected with the fact that profit always seems to trump false morality.
I have lived in the civil rights world for a long time and can say, with a clear conscience, we don’t want to be special. We want it to be “no big deal” to be gay or lesbian. We want it to be “no big deal” to get equal pay for equal work. For those of us who worked long and hard for this endgame, it wasn’t to hide in a ghetto. Today, I live with my partner in Pacific Palisades at the beach. There are a lot of families in our neighborhood. Gloria Already lives next door. Matt Damon’s house is on an opposite hill. There are two private schools within earshot of my office. I like the sound of recess as I write.
This is what civil rights is all about. Freedom.
I have very little faith that politics will ever catch up with business in producing positive change.
For those of you who understand and buy my point of view, support change by reaching out to companies you do business with. Study their policies. Let them know that you appreciate the progress they bring by raising minimum wages, supporting all families and couples, and making it safe for everyone to do business with them. Personally, I don’t much care if a store in a little town refuses to sell a bad sheet cake to a gay couple. I’m more impressed when Starbucks shuts down its stores to train employees in how to uphold their diversity policies or when Campbell’s Soup shows a loving gay couple raising their children.
Those are the moments that bring tears to my eyes. Because, treating everyone with love, as equals, as having a blank slate at the beginning, is what all of us want and deserve, unless we already have a little more turf or even the delusion we have that turf. Then, it just seems to get ugly.
Right now, I believe that equal pay for equal work is one of the single most important issues for removing turmoil from our country. Hey straight guys, if that sounds pie-in-the-sky consider the fact that most marriages are not ended by the men. Most marriages are ended by the women and the biggest source of conflict? Economic inequality.
In the end, I’m suggesting that instead of writing letters to D.C., send letters on these topics to Jeff Bezos, Bob Iger, Mary Barra, Tom Cook, and Meg Whitman.
In the end, let’s give money to the organizations that truly stand up for us.
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