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Boycotts  
 
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Estimates varied on how much the boycott cost Colorado. State tourism officials acknowledged a loss of some forty million dollars in convention and tourism business, while boycott organizers put the figure in excess of one hundred million dollars.

A similar boycott has been proposed against the state of Virginia, whose General Assembly passed a measure in 2004 outlawing civil unions and "any partnership contract or other arrangements that purport to provide the benefits of marriage." The provision has serious implications for important family matters such as decisions regarding emergency health care and hospital visitation.

Sponsor Message.

Cracker Barrel Boycott

In 1991, Cracker Barrel, a restaurant chain headquartered in Lebanon, Tennessee and prolific in the American South, fired eleven gay and lesbian workers for violating a new policy banning the employment of persons "whose sexual preferences fail to demonstrate normal heterosexual values which have been the foundation of families in our society." The blatant homophobia of this action, legal in the cities and states in which the employees worked, touched off a wave of national criticism and protests at Cracker Barrel restaurants throughout the country, and a boycott called by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

In the face of bad publicity, the company soon rescinded its explicit policy banning the employment of homosexuals, but it stubbornly refused either to rehire the dismissed employees or, for many years, to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy.

After years of protests, as well as vigorous debates on shareholder resolutions (sponsored principally by the New York City Employees Retirement System, a major stockholder) at the company's annual meetings, in December 2002 the board of Cracker Barrel's parent company voted unanimously to add sexual orientation to the company's non-discrimination policy. In response the boycott was ended, though many glbtq people still refuse to patronize the company.

Other Boycotts

Other commercial boycotts have included one begun against United Airlines in 1997 over the issue of domestic partner benefits. The boycott ended in 1999 when United announced plans to offer such benefits.

The Human Rights Campaign took the lead in calling for a boycott of Exxon Mobil Corporation in 2001. The Mobil Corporation had had a specific statement against discrimination based on sexual orientation in its employment policy and had offered domestic partner benefits. After Mobil and Exxon merged, however, the combined company did not retain the language about nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation with regard to hiring and only extended domestic partner benefits to employees who had had them while working for Mobil or who belonged to labor unions based in Canada, the Netherlands, or Vermont. The benefits question has yet to be resolved.

The Salvation Army also became the target of a boycott in 2001, again over the issue of the organization's failure to provide benefits to same-sex domestic partners. The Genesee County (Michigan) chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) suggested that people concerned about glbtq rights not only refrain from donating to the Salvation Army's Christmas fundraising drive but also place a "reminder" note in the collection kettle explaining that the potential donor was withholding a contribution because of principled opposition to the Salvation Army's homophobic policies. The national PFLAG organization endorsed the initiative.

PFLAG of Genesee County put a downloadable "reminder" slip on their website, and the tokens began appearing in Salvation Army kettles in southeastern Michigan.

The slips were similar in design to a one-dollar bill but smaller, emblazoned with a rainbow logo, printed on only one side, and in no way mistakable for United States currency. Nevertheless, a few days before Christmas, Mary Scholl, the president of the Genesee County PFLAG chapter, came home to find on her door the card of a United States Secret Service agent, instructing her to call him. (The Secret Service is the agency in charge of investigations of counterfeiting.) Instead, Scholl--refusing to be intimidated--consulted a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union. No prosecution of PFLAG members occurred.

The boycott begun by PFLAG of Genesee County is ongoing and has spread to several other states, mainly in the Midwest, and also to Canada.

Boycotts by Anti-gay Groups

Conservative groups have occasionally launched boycotts against companies with glbtq-friendly policies. In the early 1990s Levi Strauss was targeted, and a few years later the Southern Baptist Convention called for a boycott of the Walt Disney Company. Neither had any great effect.

Many parishes of the Episcopal Church of America have withheld donations to the national organization to protest its gay-friendly policies, especially the ordination of openly gay bishop Gene Robinson.

The Coors company's decision to extend domestic partner benefits to its gay and lesbian employees led Baptist minister Fred Phelps of Kansas to call for a boycott. The conservative group Concerned Women of America announced support for the idea, but their press secretary commented that their members were not "very big drinkers."

Anti-gay groups, with some success, have also attempted to influence television programming by threats of boycotts against sponsors. In response, some television shows have censored their own content. (Gay groups have used the same tactics when confronted with homophobic television programs such as the short-lived talk show of Dr. Laura Schlessinger in 2000.)

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