Back in 2009, a researcher at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill challenged the Human Rights Campaign on its perfect 100 rating for Reynolds American, the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based parent of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. The researcher, Joseph Lee, said Reynolds’ treatment of LGBT customers had led to a greater health disparity for the LGBT community and, thus, should receive lower scores on the Corporate Equality Index’s “Corporate Responsibility” section.

At the time, this is how HRC responded:

Daryl Herrschaft, director of the HRC Foundation Workplace Project, told Q-Notes via phone that the national organization is cognizant of the health-related ramifications of tobacco use. “HRC does not accept sponsorship dollars from tobacco companies because we recognize the harmful effects that tobacco has done, and in some ways its disproportionate effect on our community … We don’t want to play a role in advocating smoking to our membership and to people who come to our events.”

He said the CEI scores aren’t meant to reflect anything other than a company’s treatment of LGBT employees.

“The Corporate Equality Index addresses only corporate policies that impact LGBT people,” Herrschaft said. “It also addresses external actions of the company that directly and primarily impact LGBT equality. The Corporate Equality Index is only one measure of policies for LGBT employees and we strongly encourage everyone to seek out and pay attention to other indicators that are important to them.”

Herrschaft said that CEI scores are based on corporate policies and practices relating to non-discrimination policies, health insurance policies and domestic partner benefits, as well as corporate actions such as supporting anti-gay organizations or taking positions on legislation that hurts the LGBT community.

The CEI scoring “is not the right information to be looking at,” he said, if one is concerned primarily with the health of the LGBT community.

Now, compare that to Sirius/XM Out Q radio host Michelangelo Signorile’s chat with HRC’s Fred Sainz yesterday:

Signorile: My question is, how is the $150,000 that you’re donating…a punishment to Target?…What are you doing exactly to Target?…Are you joining the boycott? Moveon.org is calling for a boycott.Is HRC telling people they shouldn’t shop at Target?

Sainz: No, the organization doesn’t have an official position on the boycott. We think that consumers need to make their own decisions and that each person has an awful lot of choices today…And certainly this will inform consumers’ decisions on where they should make their purchases…

—-

Signorile:…The [Corporate] Equality Index is a position on the boycott, because the reason you give the equality index is to tell people where to shop…

Sainz: No, that’s not true.

Signorile:…and what companies they should support…

Sainz: No, no, that’s not true. The Corporate Equality Index is a measure of the workplace practices of companies. It was started as a guide of what the best employers are for LGBT people…It is not meant to be a statement on a company’s wholistic behavior. It is rather a measurement of the workplace practices of a company. That’s really–-

Signorile: HRC does tell people to shop at equality-friendly businesses, even has an app that is devoted to that.

Sainz: That is true.

Signorile: Okay, so the equality-friendly businesses are those that score high on the Corporate Equality Index.

Sainz: That is true…

Signorile: So right now, at this moment, Target still has a 100, and that means that’s a good place to shop.

Signorile adds, “Sainz went on to again explain how complicated it supposedly is to change the Corporate Equality Index criteria (something he told me a week earlier when I had him on the show) and how the group is trying to “grapple” with the new changes since the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United and that they don’t want to make a “knee-jerk” response and that they are working it through but in a “thoughtful” manner. That’s all well and good, but the boycott is now, and as it goes on, HRC (which, Sainz confirms, to HRC’s credit, is no longer allowing Target to sponsor any of the group’s fundraisers) is still telling people to shop at Target.”

Head to Signorile’s blog to hear the audio of the interview…

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

2 replies on “Then & Now: HRC on RJR Tobacco and Target”

  1. @Joseph Lee, said Reynolds’ treatment of LGBT customers had led to a greater health disparity for the LGBT community and, thus, should receive lower scores on the Corporate Equality Index’s “Corporate Responsibility”,

    This is complete bs, no one from RJR force us or anyone else to buy and smoke their products.. They again that is what we do best we play the victim in every thing… i once smoked (well that is if you count smoking five cigs smoking) I didn’t like it, however no one from the Cig Co force me to buy my first pack and light up..

    But we do play the victim so well that even to day we play it to our advantage..

    Then again I don’t trust HRC as for as I can/could throw them… Here a Question for you, if we woke up tomorrow and the Gov’t gave us Enda, DADT, Right to marry…Would we still need HRC, the answer would be no, HRC will not simple let their cash cows to go away… HRC is no longer working for the good of our community, its working to keep them in business…

  2. WTF is this boycott about with Target? Walmart has been throwing money to rightwing groups for years but does the LGBT community boycott them? Hell no.

    Maybe Target is trying to be a good business place and just try to appeal to everyone.

    The LGBT community really needs to practice what it desires….TOLERANCE and get over their holier than thou attitudes.

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