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Boycotts
Boycotts
by Jennifer Vanasco - SGN Contributing Writer

My grandfather used to quote the old axiom: Give me a lever, and I'll move the world.

What he meant was that the right tool makes the task possible.

We have many tools at our disposal as we react to the taking away of our marriage rights in California. National protests. Lawsuits. A new ballot amendment. Lobbying legislators. Wearing the White Knot.

But there's one popular tool that's more of a blunt instrument than a lever: boycotts on businesses because their CEO or other employees gave personal money to Yes on 8.

There are good boycotts and bad ones. This is the bad kind.

I know it's tempting. We're very angry and very hurt. We want to lash out. And so when we hear that Cinemark's CEO donated $9,999 to Yes on 8, or that a manager of the West Hollywood restaurant El Coyote donated to Yes on 8, or that a business is owned by a Mormon, then we want to strike out. We boycott.

Last weekend, for example, people protested Cinemark theaters across the country, in addition to the unofficial boycott.

But this is not the solution, for an important reason: it sets an unfortunate precedent.

A boycott is good when a company is bad. When it harasses its LGBT employees; fires them for being Gay; will not promote them; sells anti-Gay products or services (say an anti-Gay T-shirt).

A boycott is bad when a company is being targeted because of the personal donations of someone in the company - especially when the company itself is pro-Gay or gGy neutral, as Cinemark is (it has high-ranking, open Gays in its leadership, it supports LGBT film festivals, it's running Milk). Or, for example, Marriott - which, yes, is owned by a Mormon family, but which also scored 100 in the 2009 HRC Corporate Equality Index.

Why is it a bad boycott? First, because it makes no sense. It's as if we are punishing an entire family because one member let loose a racial slur. And unfair, overzealous actions like this tend to lead to backlashes.

Second, because it is likely to fail. Boycotts are tough to sustain (look at the way Baptists tried to boycott Disney); and when they wind up having no significant impact, it makes the group boycotting seem less powerful.

Third - and most importantly - this sort of boycott is bad even if it succeeds. It's bad because companies are very reactive to losing business, especially in hard economic times. And corporations do a lot to protect themselves. I fear that the result of these sorts boycotts - if they are successful - will be for companies to add a "no personal political or campaign donations" clause to their employment contracts.

Journalism organizations already often do this, so that reporters do not seem to have a conflict of interest with stories they report. You could see a company deciding, "Well, if an employee goes rogue and supports some political cause other people disagree with, we may lose business. So might as well tell employees that they can't make political donations of any kind."

That might sound terrific - until we think about it for a minute. The last thing we want is for a giant group of corporations to start limiting personal donations to causes. Many of us contribute to LGBT advocacy organizations. It would cripple our causes if we were unable to keep financial supporting Lambda Legal and NGLTF because our jobs told us we could not.

And do we really want companies to fire employees whose personal donations raise the ire of the community? What happens when a company is based in Florida, say, and its learned that its CEO gave money to support civil unions; should a protest of anti-Gay Floridians mean that the CEO is let go?

Instead, let us remember that people are not businesses. Businesses change practices due to attacks on the wallet; people change their minds through attacks on the heart.

Punishing Cinemark or Marriott or El Coyote for the foolish personal choices of a few leaders is unlikely to change (already pretty Gay-friendly) corporate policies.

We must build rapport with those leaders instead; we must talk with them; we must introduce them to Gay people and explain from our hearts why their positions are wrong. And we must save boycotts for the companies that actually deserve them.

Boycotting is a blunt instrument. Let's not smash through our own interests accidentally.

Instead, let's use a lever. And move the world.

Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning, syndicated columnist. E-mail her at Jennifer.Vanasco@gmail.com.

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