The PR nightmares that ambushed Target, Bud Light, the Dodgers and others regarding their support of the LGBTQ+ community should make the new reality clear to corporate America: the game of hide and seek is over.
If I were in charge of a large U.S. company right now, I would gather the other leaders in a room, pour each a beverage of their choosing and together listen to the series of questions posed by Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna in the song “Loyalty.”
There’s a clean version for those seeking that sort of thing:
Tell me who you loyal to
Do it start with your woman or your man?
Do it end with your family and friends?
Or you’re loyal to yourself in advance?
I said, tell me who you loyal to
That’s right, corporate America: You’re going to have to tell us who you’re loyal to.
That should have been clear after Anita Bryant’s homophobic crusade dragged Florida’s citrus industry through the proverbial mud back in the 1970s. But companies got the wrong idea for a while on LGBTQ+ issues, thinking they could safely monetize queer acceptance while remaining silent during queer oppression. They can’t get away with it anymore.
LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.
“Loyalty” is not just about who your customer base is. It’s a question of principle first, and commerce follows. For example, Hobby Lobby is closed on Sunday for religious purposes, forgoing revenue because of principle. The current culture war is testing companies’ loyalty to core principles in ways we have not seen in some time. This is not a war in which corporations can shout “go team” no matter who wins. This war doesn’t allow anyone to be neutral.
So be prepared to fight.
Companies will have to decide if “diversity, equity and inclusion” are principles worth fighting for or popular buzzwords to include in a fiercely written mission statement no one bothers to remember.
Whichever they decide, they should expect to be criticized — either for embracing diversity or neglecting it.
Regardless of the issue or where the company lands on it, leaders need a strategy in place to handle attack campaigns, including understanding who is behind them. Some activist organizations are all sail and no wind. Some, unfortunately, are led by attention-seeking presidential candidates. Disney has learned that in Florida. Be prepared for anything.
Chick-fil-A got in trouble with extremists recently for having “diversity, equity and inclusion” programming, despite the company’s well-documented history of anti-LGBTQ+ donations. That’s because this culture war is over more than sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s about progress. These are people unnerved by our nation’s changing demographics and cultural sensibilities. There are words to describe people triggered by these things. None of them considered good. So why spend so much time appeasing them?
I almost feel sorry for the next well-intended leader who finds themselves “caught off guard” by bigotry and pressured to abandon a diversity initiative or reverse support for LGBTQ+ rights. They’ll be scrambling for answers to questions they should have seen coming — inevitably darting from one message to another, looking for a safe place to hide.
There’s not one.
So show us the principles you’re loyal to.