Wal-Mart folds; Conservative Christian Groups Victorious

November 22, 2006

A group of protestors converged earlier this week on the Wal-Mart in Richmond, KY to protest the company's fair and equal treatment of homosexuals. Wal-Mart has been under increasing pressure from conservative Christians, especially after they expanded their diversity program in a deal with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

Kentucky Equality Federation's Alliance Manager, Clarence Wallace, began receiving reports about the protest within hours of its development. The Federation also received approximately 21 emails from concerned members and citizens.

In electronic communication with Wal-Mart's corporate offices, Kentucky Equality Federation General Counsel Paige D. Marks asked Wal-Mart for guidance about the prospect of counter demonstrations.

"It is disrespectful and un-American that protests are being held so close to Thanksgiving [and scheduled for Black Friday], a day we commemorate the feast held at Plymouth in 1621 by the Pilgrim colonists and members of the Wampanoag people and marked by the giving of thanks to God for harvest and health," stated Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer. "It is also unreasonable to think that companies don't want to do business with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ("LGBT") community; our money is as green as anyone's."

However, Wal-Mart folded yesterday!

A conservative group that had called on supporters to boycott Wal-Mart's post-Thanksgiving day sales to protest the retailer's support of gay-rights groups withdrew its objections Tuesday, saying the company had agreed to stay away from controversial causes.

The American Family Association, which had been asking supporters to stay away from Wal-Mart on Friday and Saturday – two of the busiest shopping days of the year – said it was pleased by a statement the company issued Tuesday.

While stressing its commitment to diversity and equality, Wal-Mart said in its statement that it "will not make corporate contributions to support or oppose highly controversial issues unless they directly relate to our ability to serve our customers."

Mona Williams, Wal-Mart's vice president of communications, said in a telephone interview that the company would continue working with the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and other gay-rights groups on specific issues such as workplace equality. "Going forward, we would partner with them on specific initiatives. ...As to opposed to just giving blanket support to their general operating budget," she said.

The corporate actions that had triggered the protest plans were little different from those taken by scores of major companies in recent years – Wal-Mart paid $25,000 this summer to become a member of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and donated $60,000 to Out and Equal, which promotes gay-rights advances in the workplace.

However, some conservative activists depicted Wal-Mart's engagement as endorsement of same-sex marriage and a pledge to give gay-owned businesses preferential treatment – assertions Wal-Mart denied in its statement Tuesday.

Conservative leaders had viewed Wal-Mart's actions as a betrayal of its own traditions, which have included efforts to weed out magazines with racy covers and CDs with explicit lyrics.

"This has been Christian families' favorite store – and now they're giving in, sliding down the slippery slope so many other corporations have gone down," said the Rev. Flip Benham of Operation Save America. "They're all being extorted by the radical homosexual agenda."

Justin Nelson, president of the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, said earlier Tuesday that conservative activists had misrepresented his business-oriented group as a leading advocate of gay marriage in order to tarnish Wal-Mart.

"Their campaign has not been to educate, but to mislead," he said.

Tim Wildmon, the American Family Association's president, said Wal-Mart had been responsive to conservative pressure on a different issue, approving use of the word "Christmas" in advertising and employee greetings this season after shifting to a "happy holidays" phrasing last year.

Another major corporation, Ford Motor Co., already is the target of an American Family Association boycott because it advertises in gay publications and supports gay-rights groups.

The Tupelo, Miss.-based AFA says 550,000 people have signed a pledge to boycott Ford and it takes partial credit for the company's financial problems. Ford spokesman Oscar Suris declined comment; an industry analyst, University of Detroit professor Michael Bernacchi, was doubtful the boycott was having much impact.

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