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Wal-Mart Extends Anti-Discrimination Policy to Trans Employees

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Sep 29, 2011
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Retail giant Wal-Mart has extended its non-discrimination policy to trans employees, drawing praise from GLBT equality advocates. Wal-Mart’s policies already covered gay and lesbian employees, though there have been claims of anti-gay harassment at specific store locations.

"What matters in the workplace is how you do your job, not your gender identity or sexual orientation," the president of the Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solmonese, said in a Sept. 28 news release.

"As the nation’s largest private employer, Wal-Mart shows that doing the right thing is also good for business," Solmonese added. "We urge them to continue to move forward by ensuring all of their LGBT employees receive equal benefits."

The Huffington Post reported on Sept. 28 that Wal-Mart had drawn the ire of gay groups in the past.

"In 2010 an employee claimed he was stripped of many of his responsibilities and forced to wear a yellow vest while in the store after he admitted he was gay to a supervisor," the Huffington Post article said.

The article also noted that earlier this year, New York GLBT advocacy group the Stonewall Democratic Club had been part of a coalition formed to prevent Wal-Mart from opening a new store in New York City. The Stonewall Democratic Club said that the retailer "represent[ed] a culture of intolerance and insensitivity towards LGBT employees and issues that is unwelcome in New York.

"Just last year more than 100 Wal-Mart stores were found to be promoting a children’s book that suggested that gay people can overcome ’sin’ and convert to heterosexuality with the help of counseling," the group added.

The company’s shareholders had originally adopted a resolution to protect trans employees, but the company was reluctant to adopt such a measure. That led the HRC to deduct points from Wal-Mart’s score in the 2011 Corporate Equality Index, an annual guide to the LGBT-friendliness of companies based on a number of factors. The HRC similarly ranked Verizon and Exxon with lower scores, as those companies, too, had resisted stockholder resolutions to extend anti-discrimination policies to trans employees.

Wal-Mart portrayed itself as a longtime champion of GLBT rights, the Huffington Post article noted, quoting spokesperson Phillip Keene.

"We’ve had a strong anti-discrimination policy for a long time," Keene told the media, the Windy City Times reported on Sept. 28.

The Windy City Times also took note of the company’s fairly low score on the 2011 Corporate Equality Index.

"The CEI has helped lead a sea-change in the workplaces practices of corporate America by assessing more than 30 specific policies and practices covering nearly every aspect of employment for LGBT workers from non-discrimination protections and the training surrounding those policies to domestic partnership and legal dependent benefits to gender transition guidelines and LGBT employee resource groups," the HRC release noted.

The annual report looks at a number of criteria to assess how LGBT-inclusive a company’s policies and practices are. In 2011, 11 companies attained perfect scores of 100 percent, including Chevron, General Motors, Ford, AT&T, Bank of America, JP Morgan, and Procter & Gamble, among others. Companies that do not extend anti-discrimination protections lose 15 points off their overall score. Other factors, such as contributions to anti-gay groups, might result in a further loss of points.

The HRC encouraged the nation’s lawmakers to follow the lead of major companies such as Wal-Mart in providing workplace protections for LGBT employees.

"Congress needs to follow their lead and make the Employment Non-Discrimination Act the law of the land," Solmonese said in the release.

Two years ago, Congress sought to pass a bill that stripped provisions to protect trans Americans out of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, reasoning that the Senate would be more likely to approve a measure that extended protections for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals if trans workers were not part of the package.

The tactic backfired badly, with GLBT equality advocates lambasting the bill, its sponsors, and its supporters, including the HRC, which lost its only trans board member in the ensuing flap. Even without trans-inclusive language, the measure failed to pass the senate.

ENDA has been introduced to every Congress save one since 1994.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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