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ExxonMobil, the Leader in Backward LGBT Policies and Cultural Tone Deafness

ExxonMobil, the Leader in Backward LGBT Policies and Cultural Tone Deafness

It's almost tradition by now. Every year at Exxon's annual shareholder's meeting, New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who oversees state employees' retirement dollars, introduces a resolution calling for the company to ban discrimination against gay and transgendered employees. And every year, it gets voted down.

And there's nothing to suggest the outcome will be any different at this year's conclave, which is set for next week in Dallas.

Exxon's hesitance to embrace pro-LGBT reforms has made it an outlier in the corporate world. According to the Human Rights Campaign's 2013 Corporate Equality Index, large majorities of Fortune 500 companies have sexual orientation and gender identity protections written into their employment policies and offer domestic partner benefits. Of the nation's 20 largest companies, HRC gives most perfect 100s. Only Exxon came in with a negative score, earning a -25.

The company's treatment of gay employees is the subject of a complaint filed this week in Illinois by a gay-rights group called Freedom to Work, which alleges the company discriminates based on sexual orientation in violation of that state's law. The Associated Press describes the filing:

The complaint, filed with the state's Department of Human Rights, says Exxon was sent two nearly identical resumes for a job opening at its office in Patoka, Ill. The only substantive differences were that one of the fictional applicants was clearly depicted as a gay-rights activist, and had higher college and high-school grades than the other applicant.

According to the complaint, Exxon's human resources office at its home base in Texas confirmed receipt of both applications, then made several efforts to contact the applicant with the lower grades to set up an interview. The applicant who indicated she was gay received no such follow-ups.

An Exxon spokesman told the AP the company is reviewing the complaint but that the company's "global policies and processes prohibit all forms of discrimination, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in any company workplace, anywhere in the world. In fact, our policies go well beyond the law and prohibit any form of discrimination."

Cece Cox, who heads the Resource Center of Dallas, doesn't buy it. If Exxon were really serious about discrimination, they would write LGBT protections into their official policies. It's a step scores of companies have taken. Cox isn't sure why Exxon hasn't.

"To me and to everyone I've talked to in the movement and so many people in corporations, it's just a big puzzle," she said.

There are, however, some minor signs of progress. The Resource Center sent a letter to the company last summer asking for a meeting and offering help in implementing more gay-friendly policies. Exxon acquiesced. Cox and two Resource Center board members from the corporate world attended the meeting, which she describes as "professional."

"My sense of the meeting was they were open to what we had to say. ... I drew a conclusion they were contemplating looking at their [policies and] benefits," she said.

They may still be looking, but they haven't made any changes in the year since the meeting. Cox is confused and disappointed, but she remains optimistic. Exxon officials seemed legitimately concerned with the way its policies were affecting the company's public image.

One asked Cox and the Resource Center board members to describe their impression of the company. "All of our responses were consistent with, 'We would walk 10 miles in a blizzard when we ran out of gas to avoid going to an Exxon.'"


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