Target, Chick-fil-A, Mozilla, and now Amazon? The e-commerce company, ironically known for being a friend to the LGBT community, is fast becoming the latest to earn scorn for its association with anti-gay policies.
AmazonSmile, a program announced last fall which allows consumers to donate 0.5% of all purchases to charitable organizations of the buyer’s choosing, lists the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) among its nearly one million options. For context, other charities spotlighted this week include the Wounded Warrior Project, the American Red Cross, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The BSA has been engulfed in controversy for more than a decade over its policy barring openly gay members from participation. Last year, the group made things worse for itself when the national council voted to lift its ban on openly gay children, but leave in place its barrier to openly gay adults. Since then, several major corporations and foundations – including Alcoa, Intel, and Disney – have cut ties with the BSA over its halfway policy of inclusion.
… but not Amazon. And now, people are starting to take notice.
As of Thursday, over 105,000 had signed a change.org petition calling on Amazon to suspend its support of the Boys Scouts for as long as the group continued to ban gay adults. Seventeen-year-old Pascal Tessier, considered the first openly gay Eagle Scout approved under the new policy (though there’s no official tracking mechanism to confirm,) launched the petition last month, after the BSA ousted Geoffrey McGrath, a gay Seattle Scoutmaster, and revoked his church’s charter agreement.
“Geoff is an Eagle Scout, a husband and the founder of two Scouting units in underserved neighborhoods,” wrote Tessier on his change.org petition, and yet, “Amazon is supporting the Boy Scouts through its Amazon Smile program. Discrimination is nothing to smile about.”
The connection is surprising, given Amazon’s reputation as a progressive company and ally to the LGBT community. Human Rights Campaign, a fierce BSA critic, gave Amazon a high score of 90 on its most recent Corporate Equality Index, which measures companies’ commitment to inclusivity. And two years ago, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos donated $2.5. million to the campaign for marriage equality in Washington state.
Spokesperson Ty Rogers didn’t address this discrepancy in an emailed statement to msnbc:
“Customers can select from nearly a million legally recognized 501(c)(3) charitable organizations on AmazonSmile. We rely on lists published by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the US Office of Foreign Assets Control to determine if certain organizations are ineligible to participate.”
The company’s website gives further details on eligibility. In addition to having good standing with the IRS and being located in one of the 50 U.S. states or the District of Columbia, participating organizations cannot “engage in, support, encourage, or promote intolerance, hate, terrorism, violence, money laundering, or other illegal activities.”
By that standard, said Joe Levin, co-founder and general counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center – on whose judgment Amazon claims to rely for determining eligibility – the Boy Scouts shouldn’t make the cut.
“There’s not a lot of question that the Boy Scouts’ position on gay leadership definitely qualifies as intolerant by anybody’s standards – especially ours,” said Levin to msnbc. “If [Amazon’s] relying at all upon the principles of the Southern Poverty Law Center, they couldn’t include the Boy Scouts on their list of potential recipients.”
Levin conceded that if Amazon were only using the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of designated hate groups to determine which charities could participate in its program, then the Boy Scouts would be in the clear.
“We don’t list the Boy Scouts (as a hate group,)” said Levin. “We only do that if we have a group that’s propagating known falsehoods associated with a particular person or group – in this case, the LGBT community. The Boy Scouts haven’t really done that.”
However, Amazon hasn’t made clear whether they’re solely using the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups or not.
As the gay rights movement picked up steam in recent years, several companies have come under fire for failure to keep up. In 2010, Target provoked a backlash when it donated $150,000 to MN Forward, which endorsed an anti-marriage equality candidate for Minnesota governor. Target’s CEO later apologized. Two years after that, Chick-fil-A’s top boss set off a wave of protests when he made no bones about his opposition to same-sex marriage. Looking back, CEO Dan Cathy now says he made a mistake. And earlier this year, Mozilla’s newly-minted head honcho stepped down amid a firestorm of criticism for his 2008 donation to the campaign for Proposition 8 – California’s former ban on same-sex marriage.
Amazon hasn’t yet unleashed the same level outrage. But if history is any guide, supporting anti-gay policies – either directly, or indirectly – can be very bad for business.