The nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group released its annual scorecard for businesses last month, a report that increasingly has U.S.-based companies scrambling to meet a growing list of ideological demands.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Corporate Equality Index report awarded a perfect score of 100 points and the designation of being a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” to 571 businesses this year, up from just 13 businesses when the report launched in 2002.
The survey scrutinizes the corporate policies and public activities of Fortune magazine’s 500 largest publicly traded companies, American Lawyer magazine’s 200 top revenue-grossing law firms, and hundreds of other mid- to large-sized businesses that opt in to the report.
To obtain a perfect score, a business must provide HRC with documentation that proves it meets a list of criteria such as having sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination policies or an LGBT employee group. Each business must also demonstrate three ongoing pro-LGBT efforts in areas such as employee recruitment, advertising, charitable giving, or lobbying.
The criteria for a perfect score have grown each year. Last year companies were required to provide equal same- and opposite-sex spousal benefits; this year they had to provide full domestic partner benefits, as well. Last year businesses had to have at least one healthcare benefit plan that covered hormone therapy and sex change surgery for transgender individuals; this year every plan they offered had to cover transgender treatment. And last year businesses had the option of including LGBTQ-owned businesses in any supplier diversity programs (like programs that favor veteran-owned or female-owned businesses); this year it was a requirement.
Businesses can lose 25 points for a “large-scale official or public anti-LGBTQ blemish on their recent record.” One stated example: A gift to a charity that backs Biblical marriage or biological sex–segregated spaces. HRC suspended Google from this year’s index after it failed to remove an app by Living Hope Ministries, a Texas-based Christian organization that works with men, women, and families affected by same-sex attraction.
Just 193 Fortune 500 companies achieved a perfect score in 2019, down from 230 last year. But hundreds of companies updated their policies in lockstep with HRC’s demands, and then sent out press releases and tweets about their achievement. Thirteen of the top 20 Fortune-ranked companies kept a perfect 100, including Walmart, Apple, Exxon Mobile, General Motors, and AT&T.
The HRC index is also an attempt to coerce support for the group’s primary legislative goal, the federal Equality Act, Emilie Kao of The Heritage Foundation told me. The index this year praised “skyrocketing rates” of corporate engagement on LGBT public policy issues in the last five years and highlighted a list of 180 companies that have signed on to its Business Coalition for the Equality Act. If passed, the measure would enshrine sexual orientation and gender identity anti-discrimination protections in civil rights law.
“The Equality Act would impose a single viewpoint on sexual orientation and gender identity on the whole country,” said Kao, who argued the proposed law conflates disagreement and discrimination, denies a wide cross-section of Americans the freedom to live according to their religious beliefs or even to “the basic biological fact that we’re made male and female,” and threatens the safety and flourishing of women and girls.
But for many of America’s largest companies, and all of HRC’s top-rated companies, that’s nothing new. The Equality Act federally mandates what HRC has been pushing companies to do for years. Case in point: In 2002, just 3 percent of Fortune 500 companies had nondiscrimination policies that included gender identity; this year it was up to 85 percent.
The difference, said Kao, is that while the index is just a social marker, the Equality Act has the power of legal enforcement, including financial and criminal penalties.