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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 30, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 39
Retailers are put on the spot over anti-Gay aid
Section One
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Retailers are put on the spot over anti-Gay aid

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

When Gay Seattle resident Stuart Wilber, 73, learned that people who bought Microsoft products through a Christian-oriented internet marketer known as Charity Giveback Group (CGBG) could channel a donation to evangelical organizations that call homosexual behavior a threat to the moral and social fabric, he was astonished.

After all, there was cause for surprise; the software giant is known as friendly to LGBT causes. So, in July, Wilber created a petition on Change.org asking Microsoft to put an end to its association with what he referred to as 'hate groups.'

By the end of the first night, 520 people had signed the petition, with their indignation copied to Microsoft officials. Ultimately, Microsoft quietly dropped out of the donation plan. This was to be the start of a conflict that has places hundreds of other well-known companies under similar scrutiny.

So what gives? How did these companies - Apple and Netflix included - get caught in this tangled web?

Here is how it works. CGBG is a for-profit company, formerly called the Christian Values Network, that assembles hundreds of so-called affiliate marketers, which retailers use to bring customers to their own websites. The affiliate receives a commission on any sales, and CGBG allows buyers to send half that commission to any of the Christian charities on its list, such as the Family Research Council or Focus on the Family.

Mike Huckabee, a former pastor, governor, and presidential contender (who is a paid consultant to CGBG), called Wilber's Change.org petition 'economic terrorism.'

'To try to destroy a business because you don't like some of the customers is, to me, unbelievably un-American,' he said in an interview.

Christian groups are saying they are being attacked for their legitimate biblical views of sex and marriage.

Whatever the case, an exodus from CGBG by major businesses has begun. In July, as Wilber's victory spread virally, Ben Crowther, a college student in Bellingham, started a similar internet appeal to Apple, which would also succeed after drawing 22,700 signers. In addition, Roy Steele, who runs a Gay-rights website in San Francisco, picked up the crusade, directly contacting about 150 companies listed on the e-commerce site. AllOut.org, a Gay-rights group in New York with hundreds of thousands of email-ready members, focused on the travel industry, helping to push Avis, Westin Hotels & Resorts, Expedia, and many other hotels and travel agencies to disassociate themselves from CGBG.

In all, close to 100 companies have left the charity arrangement.

Now, the Christian Right is fighting back with a countercampaign. A few companies that briefly left the network have been persuaded to rejoin, including Delta, PetSmart, Sam's Club, Target, and Walmart.

'People have been misled. The retailers are not donating to anyone; they are simply paying a commission to get traffic,' John Higgins, the president of CGBG, said in an interview.

CGBG focused on Christian consumers and marketing through large organizations like Focus on the Family because it saw an untapped commercial opportunity, he said.

'Retailers should keep their doors open to everybody,' said Higgins.

Beyond the consumer efforts, Huckabee took particular offense that CBGB was described as a 'hate group.'

However, the Southern Poverty Law Center would disagree. They labeled the Family Research Council a hate group for 'regularly pumping out known falsehoods that demonize the Gay community.' According to Mark Potok, a project director at the law center, the falsehoods include 'the discredited claim that Gay men are especially prone to pedophilia.'

Still, advocates insist that their push is not anti-Christian.

'It has nothing to do with biblical positions,' said Steele, the blogger from San Francisco. 'It has to do with the fact that these groups spread lies and misinformation about millions of Americans.'

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