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Every Gay Wedding Should Be Pink and Green

Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 12:38 AM EDT

Copy Editor: Jeremy Feist

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It has been demonstrated repeatedly, tolerance is good for business. To win the battle over legalizing same-sex marriage then focus on the potential power that socially tolerant public policies could have on America's financial bottom line. Going pro-gay means going pro-greenbacks.

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In some ways, it's unfortunate that so much attention centers around sensational incidents like the recently deposed Miss USA, Carrie Prejean and her controversial opinion against gay marriage. Why? Why is it unfortunate? Because it draws focus away from other, far more important things that could have a much greater impact on the struggle for equality. In the bigger picture, Ms. Prejean's opinion, no matter how much you may disagree with it, really does not amount to a whole lot in comparison to other important factors at play. And what exactly is more important, you may ask? Well, money, for one.

Money is the one aspect of this conflict that has not been given the attention it deserves and that's a shame because money is a potential game changer. Yes, the money part of this equation has been quite effective before in this battle, tipping the scales in favor of equality and gay rights.


Allow me to refresh your collective memory and tell you a story that goes back a few years and I will show you exactly why money is such a critically important element in today's fight for legal equality, and why it is important in the battle to overturn and retract California's Proposition 8.

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How Mickey Mouse kicked Jesus' ass.

If you're on Twitter and have been following gay adult entertainment stars like Ryan Raz of Raging Stallion Studios, then you are probably aware that he was just in Orlando Florida for Walt Disney World's annual Gay Days celebration (2-8 June 2009).

This year's event of well over 120,000 attendees is only the most recent in an annual gathering that has now become a yearly tradition; an event in which the Walt Disney Co. gladly plays host to the openly gay, bi-sexual, lesbian and transgender community -- extending back to 1991 at the Orlando theme park which counted a mere 3,000 attendees that first year. The history of Gay Days Anaheim (scheduled this year for 2-4 October 2009) at Disneyland is over ten years old. The first officially organized and promoted event was in 1998 with an initial 2,500 of the GBLT community in attendance; a number that has grown to a record 30,000 in 2007.

Some of you skeptics may say, "Big deal. That's nice and all, score one for the team, but so what? I don't see how Disney Gay Days has anything to do with overturning Prop. 8."

But the truth is, it is a big deal. It's a very big deal when you take into account the broader significance of what really happened.

If you recall, the decision by the Walt Disney Co. to stand-by its open-door gay-friendly policy did not go unnoticed, or uncontested. Not on your life. Ultra-conservative religious organizations and evangelical Christian groups, the ones who are staunchly opposed to any and all gay rights, and who are the same ones still engaged in an all-out effort to prevent and reverse legal equality for members of GBLT community, were not about to let sleeping dogs lie.

Disney's policy of tolerance, along with a couple of other incidents of the time, resulted in a fire storm of media coverage which reported the growing vocal opposition and protests against the entertainment giant -- which included the now-famous televangelist Pat Robertson's warning that God's wrath would rain down hell and brimstone upon the city. The well-coordinated opposition to Disney's gay-friendly policy by the American Family Association (AFA) culminated in a vote by the Southern Baptists membership to boycott the Walt Disney Company at their 1997 annual convention. Their objections cited Disney's policy of tacitly supporting the theme park's gay-friendly events and their policy of providing health benefits to same-sex partners of employees. The 15-million strong Southern Baptist's economic boycott was specifically aimed at the Disney films, theme parks and television network, ABC.

You're an idiot if you think the Walt Disney Co. didn't care about the potential impact of this boycott, because it somehow thought it was immune to the effects of the boycott through some special magic it stores inside the Magic Kingdom. On the contrary, Disney cared a great deal, and still does, about its public image -- and for good reason. In terms of corporate identity and what it stands for, Disney is about as "pro-family values" as it gets. Go ahead and try and I'll bet you, you can't name another company that has more official mascots that are more family and kid friendly, or more popular and well-know the world over, on a par with Bambi, Dumbo, and the Lion King. As a matter of fact, you could say, Disney "is" America's "family value" company. And you can bet your ass, Disney is, and always has been, very concerned about doing something that would tarnish its wholesome pro-family image and reputation.

And for the record, at the very beginning Disney did permit signs "warning" the public of the presence of a large attendance of homosexuals couples at all of its park entrances, which is proof positive that Disney did in fact have concerns and was not as rigidly supportive as it is today. But in spite of its initial reservations, America's premier "family values" company, played host (and continues to do so every year) to the very group of people considered so dangerous to traditional family values and traditional marriage, that many States have actually passed laws banning gay marriage. In short, this is a contradiction that's hard to explain. It's sort of like the federal government suddenly deciding to host Al Qaeda's worldwide annual jamboree in lower Manhattan. It seems to fly in the face of common sense.

If you ask the Southern Baptists, they'll tell you that it was Michael Eisner, the CEO and head of The Disney Co. at time, who was responsible for Disney's horrid gay-friendly policies, but this reason falls short of explaining why the boycott was ultimately ineffective; and it certainly doesn't explain why Gay Days at Disney theme parks are still in full swing today, growing in popularity year after year. And if you attend the Gay Days events at any of the Disney's theme parks now, you'll discover that most of the controversy and protests have all but disappeared.

The truth is, Michael Eisner was no different than any other CEO who headed companies that decided to implement and support tolerant corporate policies. And the real fact is, the Southern Baptists used Eisner's resignation as the CEO of The Disney Company in 2005, as their face-saving excuse for officially calling off their failed 8-year boycott.

With respect to implementing same-sex friendly policies, Disney is by no means alone. Many of America's largest companies are no different than Disney, some of whom have also been the target of AFA economic boycotts for their support of pro-choice, LGBT supportive policies, which include same-sex partner employee benefits. But in each case, the boycotts against them resulted in the same level ineffectiveness and failure. A short list of companies attacked by the AFA include such familiar names as:

  • American Airlines
  • Blockbuster Video
  • Burger King
  • Calvin Klein
  • Carl's Jr.
  • Clorox
  • Crest
  • Ford
  • Hallmark Cards
  • Kmart
  • Kraft Foods
  • S. C. Johnson & Son
  • Microsoft
  • MTV
  • Mary Kay
  • NutriSystem
  • Old Navy
  • IKEA
  • Sears
  • Pampers
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Target
  • Tide
  • PepsiCo.

It is important to mention that some companies did not take the attacks sitting down. Waldenbooks, in conjunction with the American Booksellers Association, the Council for Periodical Distributors Association, the International Periodical Distributors Association, and Duvall Bibb Services successfully sued the AFA under the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and the Florida State RICO Acts.

Nevertheless, this list by no means exhausts of the number of companies around the country who have similar, if not identical, employment policies and who support similar socially tolerant community agendas. Michael Eisner surely cannot be faulted for all of them. So the question remains: Why do these companies maintain their seemingly liberal policies, in spite of such vehement opposition, and why have all the boycotts intended to financially influence their policies fail?

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A conundrum and the power of the all mighty dollar.

When you look at the numbers, Disney's decision to favor of the seemingly small interests of a minority group in the face of the potential impact of a financial boycott by a much larger group doesn't make much sense. At the start of the Gay Days events, the attendance count was only few thousand people, estimated at 2,500 at Anaheim in 1998 and 3,000 at Orlando in 1991, seven years earlier. The actual revenue produced from such small groups of people, which was held on a single day in the beginning, is comparatively insignificant, dwarfed by the income generated by the overwhelming number of attendants at Disney's theme parks on any given day, month, or year. Compare that with the potential loss of revenue from 15-million Southern Baptist households who had decided in unison to withhold all the money they would ordinarily have spent on Disney's services and products in a single year. It doesn't take a math genius to see that the financial impact would seem to clearly favor the anti-gay boycotters. But as we now know that's not the choice Disney made.

So, either Eisner was liberal gay-loving crazy freak who was more interested in supporting the interests of a small number of people at the risk of losing the revenue from millions of others, which means he would have likely been given the boot by the Disney's Board long before his resignation in 2005, or there's something else going on here.

So what then? What else is there? And the answer to that is competition, pure and simple. The true financial impact of not standing-by their tolerant positions is much greater than the costs of what was at stake by the boycott brought by the people who were (and are) opposed to it. Disney did the math and concluded that it was in their best interests to maintain their policies. And they were ultimately proven right. Disney Gay Days are still in existence. Disney still offers health benefits to the committed same-sex partnerships, as do thousands of other companies across the country. And none of them have seen any significant impact to their bottom lines as a result of efforts imposed by opposing groups to effectively changed their minds

This is the point where this apparent conundrum becomes even more interesting and why the Disney case is so important to understand -- and why there's bigger lesson here for the GBLT community to be learned.

Disney, the company whose very reputation lives or dies by its wholesome family and kid friendly image, not only rejected the opposition by the considerable efforts of anti-gay forces, it did so without so much as a knee-scrape, yet Disney is US headquarters and its theme parks are located in States that seem to have bolstered support against the very liberal policies that they have elected to implement. The State of Florida, where Disney World Orlando has its home, not only passed a State constitutional ban against gay marriage but also went one step further and elected to prohibit the legal equivalent, civil unions. The electorate in California, home of Disneyland Anaheim, recently passed the much publicized Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriages throughout the State. How could this be? Is Disney that out of step with the beliefs of its own neighbors and the surrounding communities? Are the economic forces that play in favor of Disney's decision that different from the economic forces at play in the broader community?

The answer to that question is no. What is different is the process by which the states make decisions and the way Disney does. Put simply, Disney is not a democracy. Disney did consider the public's interests, after all, the general public are the ones who buy Disney's services and products, but Disney did not need their express and direct approval to make its decision. And if you think about it, it should be the other way round. In the current environment, many politicians are less gay-friendly than their more liberal corporate counterparts which seems odd since politicians try appeal to as many constituents as they can but know that after elected they can often fudge on the promises made during their campaign.

What becomes apparent, when you accept the overwhelming evidence and data available, is that culturally liberal and tolerant policies that promote social diversity are good for business, and what is good for business is good the economy as a whole. The problem really lies in how the public is informed and ultimately influenced. So real question is not whether or not you think gay marriage is good or bad but whether or not the economic health of your community is important enough to you that you are willing to support tolerant diverse social values, which includes support of same-sex marriages?

In case you might be wondering, the lessons of past failures have not gone completely unheeded by the opposition which is why less money has gone into efforts to boycott companies, which have proven to be more or less ineffective, and into the efforts to shift public opinion during elections. In the last general election, enormous amounts of money poured into California at the last minute in a concerted effort to boost support for Proposition 8. And it worked. Prior to this, polls consistently shown that the majority of voters were supportive of same-sex marriages and opposed Prop 8. That changed as the enormous funds managed to sway public opinion in the opposite direction. And you can be sure, for the opposition, this victory stands out in a sea of defeats, and something they are not likely to forget.

But what pro-gay political forces ought to remember is that when the chips are down, people vote with their pocket book, and in the present depressed ailing economic environment their pocket book is at the very top of their concerns. Unquestionably, the economy needs every advantage it can get and so the same financial benefits that Disney saw by its support of tolerance are same that could benefit the broader economy as whole -- which makes the effort to push for legal support of tolerance and equality even more important.

For southern California, by virtue of its control of mass media the entertainment business tends to dominate the business agenda but the future of real economic growth lay with burgeoning biogenetic industry, which has the real potential to dwarf both the media and tech industries combined. The largest concentration of biogenetic companies is based in the southern Los Angeles and San Diego area. The immediate competition for these firms is in the more legally tolerant greater Boston area of Massachusetts. California could lose its current dominance in this critically important new industry if it cannot accommodate the same socially conducive social communities that others currently do.

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The moral of the story.

What lies at the heart of this contradiction is something that could shift the results of the struggle for equality under the law in favor of same-sex couples.

I'm really hoping you get it. The battle for gay marriage is the same battle for tolerance and equality that's been going on for many years, with the same two opposing sides, and it has been fought on economic turf before where there was a clear winner -- and it wasn't the side that supports Carrie Prejean's opinion.

This point is so important that I'll say it again. This is the same battle between the same two forces; the religious fundamentalists and those who were pro-gay and pro-diversity -- and when money was the weapon of choice, if you remember correctly, the gay team won. If the anti-gay team lost when money was the deciding factor, then it stands to reason that they will lose again. So I strongly suggest we seriously think about focusing our attention on the economic advantages of supporting tolerance which clearly favors one side over the other.

It's all about money, the cold hard ruthless good ol' American greenback. That's where gay activists should focus their attention. And can we please stop looking like vicious hate speech monsters ourselves? Even if you can't stand the *&#@? and think she's a monster, the fact is, hateful public rhetoric does not change minds. It doesn't. It only serves to drive feelings even deeper. Haven't we learned anything from caustic venom that produced even more hatred over the abortion issue?

I heard many people say things like "boo to haters" yet turn around and in the very next breath say "Carrie Prejean is an anti-gay c*nt". Okay. Whether you want to admit it or not, that is hate speech. And if you're one of those doing that you're a hypocrite, so stop it. And believe me, I understand. I really do because I've said a few of those things myself. I am embarrassed to admit it but I have been "that" hypocrite, myself. I know I'm better than that, and I know you're better than that, too. We all are.

Our hearts are in the right place. We all know that. But now, I think we need to give our brains a chance because I think by using our smarts we can not only avoid fomenting more hatred but we can quite realistically win the game. And isn't that what we all really want?

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