How Madison Avenue Transformed Gay Rights


In the early 90’s movie goers were standing in line to see Basic Instinct. A political organization I was involved with sent protestors out to boycott and irritate anyone standing in line to witness Sharon Stone’s character manipulate, shock, humble and kill men.

I had been involved in political change within the LGBT community for a number of years and called the chair of the organization sending out the protestors. I happened to be on their board.

I told him,

“This is a travesty. If we expect any form of equality, we have to make room for an ice-pick wielding lesbian.”

I added something that stayed with me all of these years,

“Besides, real equality is going to come from Madison Avenue. Stop harassing the bystanders.”

Years later, I would be reduced to tears when someone told me to watch Barack Obama’s last Inaugural Address. I had been out when employers could still fire someone for being gay. I had watched insurance companies “redline” employers in an attempt to force out anyone who was sick with hiv. I watched people with less power than me get strung up and killed. So, his words of inclusion gave me a form of gratitude that will never ease away.

But, let us not diminish the large organizations using the power of choice to influence social justice and good in the world. In the mid-90’s The Walt Disney Company, purveyor of entertainment to families and children offered health benefits to partners of gay and lesbian employees. Virtually every other studio had already gone down this road. Disney’s decision made the media industry’s support especially meaningful and far-reaching.

It was a good business decision.

When the Supreme Court recently rendered the decision to support gay marriage, companies such as Visa, Airbnb, American Airlines, Target, Proctor & Gamble, Youtube, Delta, JetBlue, Orbitz, Whole Foods, Expedia, Gap, AT&T, and many others formally voiced their support of the watershed change.

This begs the question:

Would any of this happened without the stand taken by many of the country’s largest employers?

It requires courage for all of these organizations to examine the issues long enough to realize that supporting social justice is a good business decision. In the end, I predict that issues such as a living wage, equal pay for equal work and the upcoming huge retrenchment of retraining will be led by the companies that are smart enough to make the business case for change. For example, when companies reach the decision to announce and stand for equal pay, these organizations will inherit an entirely new group of grateful customers and employees.

Personally, I believe one of the big stories about civil rights change is not getting the attention of media. Instead of giving time to someone who doesn’t want to sell an ugly sheet cake to a gay couple, we could be looking at the huge organizations that are standing up for civil rights, each with tens of thousands of employees and millions of customers.

[bctt tweet=”This is the power of change and right action.” username=”bizmastersglobal”]

I will not diminish the extraordinary efforts of so many people who have inspired positive change. But it is also time to reward organizations that have also taken a stand for what is right and just.

They have my gratitude.
They have my vote.
They get my money.


David Harder
David Harder
DAVID founded Inspired Work in 1990, which has helped over 42,000 professionals transform their relationship towards work. Individuals from all walks of life attend Inspired Work’s public programs to launch new careers, new business or to become more successful in their existing role. He views work as a profound opportunity to become more fulfilled, contributive and effective. Mr. Harder’s leadership, employee engagement, executive development and social networking programs are used in a wide variety of organizations including The Walt Disney Company, HBO, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Loyola Marymount University, University of Southern California, The United Church of Religious Science, Morgan Stanley, and many others. Inspired Work’s leadership programs, career development and team building programs produce some of the worlds most outstanding satisfaction numbers in any business: 92.6% out of a hundred. David has appeared on many business and human-interest programs including CNN, KTLA News, KFWB News and Business News Network. David’s book, new book, The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press) offers an entire “crack-the-code” approach to engagement.

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