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Is Your Business Gay-Friendly? More and More Companies Are Banking On It

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There is a new and incredibly encouraging trend sweeping across our current commercial landscape, as more and more companies are finding new and innovative ways to show their support for LGBT rights and marriage equality. In a recent video released by Google in partnership with The Four, a number of Google staff explain their own motivations for supporting marriage equality, and encourage U.S. voters to do the same, calling it "the civil rights issue of our generation."

Google isn't the only household name throwing its weight behind this cause. Travel giants Expedia are another organizations to show their support for same sex marriage by releasing a video entitled "Find Your Understanding," which follows the journey of a retired businessman coming to terms with his daughter's wish to marry her girlfriend. Prior to unveiling the video, Expedia publicly backed a referendum which would effectively legalize gay marriage in Washington State, where the company is based. While the majority of responses to the video have been positive, one less impressed YouTube commenter took the opportunity to assert their love of Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, adding, "I also vote with my travel dollars," indicating he would never darken Expedia's door again.

Whether you look at it as corporate social responsibility, a PR opportunity, or simply a cynical grab for the lucrative once-termed "pink pound," supporting the gay rights movement has become a lot more fashionable than it ever used to be, especially among international corporations. In 2010, the French arm of McDonald's made international headlines when it aired a short, sweet and simple gay-friendly ad, complete with the slogan "come as you are." The video soon went viral as the Internet responded warmly to the chain's departure from its long-standing focus on depicting "traditional" family units eating at the restaurant.

Since then, numerous companies such as Facebook and Amazon have publicly aligned themselves with the movement. Oreo made a lot of friends (and more than a few enemies) this June, when it released a Photoshopped, Pride-themed image of a rainbow-colored cookie, captioned "RainbOreo." Naturally, a number of reactionaries called for the Kraft-owned brand to be boycotted.

Not all companies are ready to march in the pride parade just yet, though. It's common knowledge that talking about religion or politics is the quickest and easiest way to court controversy (something this blogger recently discovered first-hand), but when doing so within the context of a multi-million dollar business empire, the consequences can be downright disastrous. No company has learned this lesson quite as harshly as the American fast food chain Chick-Fil-A.

With a largely Christian company culture, Chick-Fil-A gained notoriety this year when COO Dan Cathy made a number of divisive public statements on the subject of same sex marriage. This came in the aftermath of the revelation that the organization had made donations of over $5 million to causes which oppose marriage equality in the U.S. and even promote "conversion" therapy, through its non-profit arm subsidiary WinShape. Chick-Fil-A's insistence on throwing its hat into the ring of national debate on gay rights sparked widespread controversy, and led to many boycotting the restaurant; high profile public figures including the mayor of Boston and the Alderman of Chicago even proposed a ban on the franchise in their respective areas.

In September, it was announced that Chick-Fil-A had "ceased donating to organizations that promote discrimination, specifically against LGBT civil rights," suggesting that while having strong views is all well and good while business is booming, even the most self-righteous of Directors will reassess their own convictions if profits are threatened. Following the scandal, an internal document was circulated throughout Chick-Fil-A which promoted an ethos of acceptance to individuals of all race, religion, and sexual orientation. But it may take more than a sudden culture change to sway public opinion now that the damage has been done.