In many parts of the world, cultural change is required before LGBT people can be freed from persecution based on their sexual orientation, and corporations should advocate for that change. The private sector has a unique opportunity to influence culture. Consumers all over the globe interact with corporate brands every day. As consumers, we often base our allegiance to companies on the values they hold and what their brands represent. Consumers are responsive to how companies use their platform, and corporations are responsive to how consumers react. The resulting marketplace of ideas rewards companies that support positive social norms from the consumer perspective and vice versa.
One of those norms that will hopefully continue to flourish is acceptance of LGBT people. In 1994, IKEA ran the first mainstream television advertisement featuring a gay couple. The two men in the ad nostalgically discussed how they started dating and eventually bought a dining room set together. At the time, most Americans had never seen ordinary LGBT people’s daily lives—the ad humanized this couple and revealed the harmlessness of being gay. Steadfast adherents to the status quo rallied an immediate backlash including calls for boycott, antagonistic op-eds, angry phone calls, and a bomb threat. IKEA continued running the ad, but the United States would have to wait for years until seeing another television advertisement that even acknowledged the existence of LGBT people. Social organizations, media, nonprofits, and individuals continued to press for LGBT rights resulting in Obergefell v. Hodges, a major legal victory in 2015 that protected the right to marry another of the same sex. IKEA seems to be doing alright too.
Worldwide, there is a growing realization that there is nothing wrong about being LGBT . However, the fight for LGBT human rights is enduring and should be fought strategically. In the United States, there are 28 states that do not prohibit discriminatory firing of employees based on sexual orientation. Abroad, same-sex relations are punishable by death in 13 countries, and illegal in 72 countries. Beyond government sponsored persecution, LGBT people face threats from society at large. The mass shooting last year at Orlando Pulse nightclub in which 49 victims were killed is a stark reminder that LGBT people remain vulnerable to hate that continues to fester. In countries where populations’ hostility towards LGBT people is more prevalent and visible, there is greater risk. These risks should not prevent companies from supporting their LGBT employees and the community at large, but any effort to promote LGBT rights should be done mindfully. Companies can serve as role models by implementing corporate antidiscrimination policies, building an inclusive workplace culture, and choosing not to sponsor oppressive groups. Companies can also actively partner with LGBT advocacy groups or advise governments about the economic benefits of supporting LGBT rights as discriminatory regimes discourage top corporations from investing. While making these decisions, companies should ensure they are complying with local laws and not putting any of their LGBT employees or the community at further risk.
Change never happens without sacrifice, or in business terms, investment. Companies want the best employees, and it just so happens that LGBT people happen to be included in that group. Don’t be afraid to speak up for them.
Written By Max A. Wesemann
Articles Editor for the South Carolina Journal of International Law and Business, Volume 14
[MB1]Is this the proper phrasing? Should it be nothing wrong with being person in the LGBT community, as in people are usually one of the following (some exceptions): lesbian gay bisexual transsexual transgender etc.
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