Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Tolerance and Diversity: Part I

When I think of gay-friendly businesses, Walmart does not immediately come to mind.  In fact for many years, I've often thought of them as a great evil for gaining a near monopoly on retail stores in small towns (which is still kind of true, but we do live in a capitalist society).  However, my overall opinion of Walmart has changed in the last six months.  A friend of mine went to work in their corporate office.  He is openly gay, and at first, I was a little worried about him moving from a gay Midwestern haven to Bentonville, Arkansas, smack dab in the Bible Belt.  So before he even moved, I did a little research, and I was quite surprised at what I found out.  In 2014, the HRC's Equality Index gave Walmart a score of 90 (the same as the very gay-friendly Starbucks).  When one looks at the HRC report, you see that they offer the same benefits to same-sex partners as they do the opposite sex partners. Furthermore, sexual orientation has been included in their non-discrimination policy available in the employee handbook (since 2003, and they include gender identity.  All employees are required to attend LGBT diversity training and even has written guidelines concerning employees who transition genders on the job.  They market and advertise to LGBT consumers and support LGBT organizations.  They also have a PRIDE Resource Group to help LGBT employees.  With all of that, why did Walmart get a 90/100?  It's because they do not cover transgender benefits in their health coverage. 
Since my friend began working for Walmart, I have increasingly became more impressed by them.  When Arkansas tried a Religious Freedoms Restoration Act like Indiana, Walmart pressured the governor to not sign it.  Instead, the governor sent the bill back and said he'd only sign it if it had the same language as the federal law already in place.  I'm glad Walmart stood up, because as much money as the Walton family has, as many employees as Walmart has, and the impact Walmart has on the Arkansas economy, I doubt any candidate could be elected if Walmart put its might behind opposing them.
With all that I have already mentioned, I have to tell you what impressed me the most.  Each Monday, Walmart send its employees a corporate diversity email covering topics about women, African-American, and LGBT issues.  My friend has shared with me several of these emails, but this week's email really caught my eye.  Included in the email was a link to a Huffington Post article, "Is the gay community scaring away our straight allies?" by Mason Hsieh.  In the article, which I plan to discuss in more depth tomorrow, it begins with this story:
Hearing straight men identify as allies to the LGBT community always makes my heart melt a little. So when one of my new straight-male friends asked if he could sit in on a QSA meeting, I immediately said yes and took him to a panel on LGBT dating, hoping to show him how cool the queer community is. The discussion was mostly civil, until my fledgling ally worked up the courage to ask one simple question on a topic he was genuinely interested in: "In gay dating, who's the girl?" This question did not go over well.
Within milliseconds the P.C. police had descended on him, vehemently demanding that he check his straight-cis-male privilege as well as his narrow-minded assumptions about dating and gender roles. He should be ashamed, they said.
Hsieh notes that he understands that his friend did not phrase the question in the most politically correct way, but, honestly, how many of our straight friends have asked us that same question in one form or another?  Straight people always wonder that, just as they often wonder "what do lesbians do in bed?" (Not a question I want to ponder too much, but most of our straight male friends can answer from watching porn.). Hsieh's point is that why should we get offended by a question that was not meant to be mean spirited.  Just like with my students when they make an insensitive or ignorant remark, I explain to them what was wrong with what they said.  It amazes me the number of people who do not understand that some of the things they say are offensive, so it's our job to educate them and try to make this a better world.
So I want to ask you two questions.  Does knowing that Walmart makes an effort to be supportive of the LGBT community and to foster a comfortable working environment for LGBT employees, change your preconceived notions of Walmart?  And, I'd like to know your opinions (before I wrote more about Hsieh's article) about how to handle our LGBT allies who want to help but aren't always politically correct?  

P.S. (Knock on wood) I had absolutely no headache yesterday.  Hopefully, I can make it two days in a row and more.  Maybe the Toradol shot helped to stop the cluster headache cycle.  Only time will tell.


Michael Dodd said...

1) I am happy Walmart is improving. I will let it go at that.
2)I think we need to learn (and I include myself in this, because I have recently been called to task on it) to treat our straight allies AND those who oppose us with respect and dignity at all times. Hateful and harsh speech to friends can easily drive them away. Hateful and harsh speech to opponents certainly does not draw them any closer.
And for my own failings in this area, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I will try to be more mindful.

Anonymous said...

I think the article raises an important question. For a group that demand tolerance and equality, the LGBT community is often just as guilty as those groups they so vehemently oppose. Yes we need to voice our position, but we also need to grant those opposing opinions the right to voice them as well. And work to educate and build on common ground so that in the future we may gain some str8 advocates and ally's who are just as vehement about LGBT rights. There is a great quote from the over-written cheesy movie The American President that I love. The president played by Michael Douglas is giving a passionate speech in response to some negative campaigning by his opponent. He says," America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free." I think the more we as individuals can voice our opinions and positioning but at the same time try to offer understanding and tolerance especially to those who are genuinely interested in supporting the LGBT and our rights, the more progress we will make in increasing our rights as acceptance in general.

Jay M. said...

My opinion of Walmart as an LGBTQ ally hasn't changed because before now, I had no opinion. You've enlightened me. Now when they start treating employees like people who matter (the news is rife with issues, also read Nickel and Dimed
Book by Barbara Ehrenreich), I might shop there again.

As to the second piece of this. Our youth at ROSMY span the gamut for proper responses. Most tend towards calling the person out if the words were used in animosity (including "that's so gay" because there is no other context), and explaining why the words were hurtful (using "tranny" index of "transgender person") in other conversations. Most of them prefer to teach than confront, unless it is clearly spiteful, etc.

Asking "who's the girl", is to me, in the 21st Century where females can ask men out, pay for it all, initiate the sex, etc., pretty stupid. But an attack response puts the attackers at an even lower level than the idiot.

Bottom line, it all depends. A brain to mouth filter for al of us is a good thing, but unfortunately, sometimes we accidentally (or on purpose) hit the. BYPASS valve!

Peace <3