The landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalizes marriage amongst all people, regardless of sexual orientation, offers a clear demarcation line between the right and wrong sides of history.
For company leaders who have been bold enough to speak out through their brands in support of LGBT equality, the Supreme Court decision validates a stance that continues to be controversial. The irony is that the more that each corporate citizen expresses its unity with the LGBT community, the less controversial this position has become.
The Supreme Court has been kind to companies over the past several years, granting to corporations the right to spend money in candidate elections and the right to refuse to comply with a federal mandate to cover birth control in their employee health plans. As far as the Court is concerned, companies are people.
So it’s only fair companies recognize that those in the LGBT community are people, too.
Kenneth Cole didn’t need to wait for a Supreme Court ruling to understand this. The man and the brand have been championing gay rights for years. In fact, as far back as 1993, the company mounted a typically clever, attention-getting ad campaign that unabashedly argued for marriage equality, long before the issue became more accepted.
This corporate fearlessness was recognized by GLAAD in 2004, when it honored Kenneth Cole with an award for being the first to advocate gay marriage rights in an ad. Kenneth Cole later followed its outspoken advocacy with a yearly t-shirt partnership with HRC in support of marriage equality, and in 2011 posted a billboard on the first day the marriage equality law went into effect in NYC. Now Kenneth Cole is launching a new t-shirt with HRC in celebration of marriage equality for all.
“For over 25 years, the company has advocated on behalf of people’s rights (and lefts)”, says Kenneth Cole. “We commend the Supreme Court on this landmark decision in support of ALL people’s rights to love who they choose and define those relationships accordingly. ”
By clearly expressing its compassion for a marginalized community, Kenneth Cole pioneered the way for other companies to publicly show their support for LGBT rights. Mastercard, Oreo, Gap, Smirnoff, Grey Poupon, Absolut, JC Penny, Tylenol - all have taken a stand with their brands. In doing so, they have helped continue a national earthquake of community impact, changing the dynamic in our culture from one of resistance to acceptance around the issue of marriage equality.
It’s not just what you say to the community that matters - it’s how you practice what you preach within your organization. Pearson is an example of a company that has long upheld diversity inclusion, and as such the Supreme Court ruling, while thrilling, won’t change much about how the organization is already operating.
“This has always been a priority for us,” said Kendra Thomas, Pearson’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion in the Americas. “We’ve always participated in the corporate equality index and we are among the companies with a 100 percent score in 2015. We released a gender transition handbook and there was tremendous enthusiasm and employee engagement around this effort from every level of the organization. People who want to work here know that Pearson is about inclusion, and we are proud to attract talent who values inclusion too."
For Thomas, the Supreme Court ruling just reinforces what Pearson has been championing all along. And it also makes her job easier. “If you operate in multiple states and the laws fluctuate around the issue of marriage, it makes it confusing,” she notes. “Now we don’t have to harmonize according to different laws across the country.”
I’m proud that my own company, Causecast, also took a stand on behalf of LGBT equality years ago, with a video campaign about this civil rights journey. It's remarkable how quickly this issue has snowballed into another great story of the American people rallying together to advance human rights. Corporations quite clearly played an important role in helping push this agenda. It’s a clear case of common sense triumphing over bigotry.
Companies have such an important role to play in normalizing social consciousness and making it easier for others to jump on board. This Fourth of July, celebrate our nation’s independence by considering the civic duties of your company. As a so-called legal “person,” companies should, at a minimum, peaceably coexist with other people. Better yet, companies can play a profound role in advancing the independence and equality of all American citizens.