Sochi, and Solidarity With the Gay Community

The business community can, and should, follow AT&T’s lead in speaking out in solidarity with the LGBT community. On February 4th, the company’s Consumer Blog featured an entry entitled, A Time for Pride and Equality. “We support LGBT equality globally and we condemn violence, discrimination and harassment targeted against LGBT individuals everywhere. Russia’s law is harmful to LGBT individuals and families, and it’s harmful to a diverse society.”

Russia’s anti-gay laws and attitudes are repugnant. Russian President Vladimiar Putin clearly wants hosting the Olympics to signal that Russia is a proud and globally-significant nation once again. But what it’s really doing is making the country look like an oversized banana republic, with values that don’t befit a serious world power. Putin is a man of the times alright — as long as the times you’re thinking of are the 19th century.

We’ve long known that discrimination is bad business. Discriminating against talented employees or paying customers just because of their sexual orientation is plain stupidity. And every decent person knows in their heart of hearts that such discrimination is immoral. This is not something where reasonable people can agree to disagree. There simply is no argument in favour of holding someone’s sexual orientation against them, let alone subjecting them to violence.

I wrote previously that I think the International Olympic Committee and corporate sponsors are in a no-win situation. These organizations clearly can’t condone Russia’s brutish stance on homosexuality. But a boycott isn’t necessarily in anyone’s interests either: it is arguably better to allow Russia a moment in the limelight, precisely because some of that light will shine into the dark corner that is Russia’s treatment of its gay citizens.

But every corporation has a voice. Olympic sponsors and non-sponsors alike have enormous capacity to get its message out. Some of them might lose business over taking a stand on what is for some, regrettably, a hot-button issue. But the obligation to pursue profits has limits. And I detect one of them here. Some have speculated that AT&T’s decision to take a stand is, whatever motivated it, a smart marketing. And that may be. If a company happens to benefit from doing the right thing, we should note the benefit, but admire the good deed.

8 comments so far

  1. Joe Carter (@joecarter) on

    And every decent person knows in their heart of hearts that such discrimination is immoral.

    Really? It’s rather surprising to hear a business ethics site say that it is immoral for an employer to refuse to hire someone because they are sexually attracted to children. (And yes, that is exactly the implication of your statement.)

    • Chris MacDonald on

      Please! I said “sexual orientation.” Pedophelia is not a sexual orientation. If someone wants to define it that way, then obviously this would be an exception to my claim, at least with regard to employment working with kids. But as it stands, your point is a red herring, since what I’m explicitly talking about is what we standardly mean by the term “sexual orientation.”

    • Curt Day on

      Joe,
      I am not sure why you mentioned pedophilia here especially when the context of this post shows that sexual orientations being referred to are homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgendered.

    • Marvin Edwards on

      Discrimination is wrong when it’s only basis is prejudice. If there is evidence that someone abuses children in any way, then any employer of people who work with or around children may refuse to hire a convicted pedophile.

      But it would be wrong to refuse to hire a homosexual, unless he is also a convicted pedophile. The two are separate and distinct conditions.

  2. Curt Day on

    Hey we agree for the most part. In fact, I would follow Pussy Riot’s admonition to boycott these Olympics. But if you are going, make a statement–that is one for equality and respect–and make it there at the Olympics.

    Now the question is what should a business do when the moral choice is mutually exclusive from the smart marketing choice?

    • Chris MacDonald on

      Curt, that’s an excellent question. I think there are certainly times when a company needs to take a ‘hit’ financially, in order to do the right thing. But we need to frame that question in terms of a *general* understanding of business as playing according to a set of internal rules which, although rough, add up to a system that is generally socially constructive.

      But it’s also important not to let that excellent (and difficult) question get in the way of answering the easier question at hand.

  3. Marvin Edwards on

    Homosexual orientation is a naturally occurring anomaly that might best be viewed as a “handicap”. A handicap impairs one’s ability to do something that people are normally able to do. The impairment of one’s ability to see, hear, and walk are considered handicaps. Homosexual orientation impairs the ability to mate with the opposite sex.

    Moral people generally teach their children to accept people who are handicapped and respect the fact that the person is dealing with something that most people don’t have to cope with.

    Moral people rise to the aid of the handicapped and accommodate their impairment as best we can, for example by building ramps for people in wheelchairs.

    Moral people concentrate on a person’s capabilities and discard any prejudices that would add to the problem or make it out to be worse than it actually is.

    Because homosexual orientation seeks life partners of the same sex, a reasonable accommodation would be to provide the same benefits to same sex couples as provided to opposite sex couples by marriage.

    There is one thing we need to keep in mind though. In the same fashion that Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson was able to marry a woman and father two daughters before deciding to follow his inborn desire, it is probably true that most heterosexuals are also capable of a same-sex relationship. And it would be a moral harm for someone to lose the option of having children unnecessarily.

    The big taboo that caused confusion, fear, hatred and violence must obviously go. The best way to keep the pendulum from swinging too far in the other direction would be to keep in mind that it is a handicap.

  4. Patrick Coutermarsh on

    A key consideration here is that AT&T is/was not a sponsor of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). It does sponsor the United States Olympic Council, but that’s a significantly different situation from the one that Coca-Cola, P&G, McDonald’s, and other companies are in.

    So not only did AT&T get major marketing points, they also did not have nearly as much at risk (e.g. undermining a ~$50 million investment, aggravating the IOC, not to mention the other sponsors).

    This isn’t to say that it wasn’t the right move by AT&T, or that other companies shouldn’t follow suit, only that we should take these things into account.


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