ExxonMobil to vote on LGBT protections

GetEQUAL, other groups plan protests May 30 outside company’s annual shareholders meeting at the Meyerson Symphony Center

GETTING PUMPED UP | Lesbian activist Cd Kirven yells into a megaphone outside the ExxonMobil shareholders meeting at the Meyerson in 2010. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

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FUELING A PROTEST
The ExxonMobil shareholders meeting begins at 9 a.m. on May 30 at the Meyerson Symphony Center. Protesters will gather along Flora Street at 8:30 a.m. to greet shareholders as they cross from the parking garage to the hall.

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ExxonMobil shareholders meeting at the Meyerson Symphony Center on May 30 will vote on a proposal to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the company’s employment nondiscrimination policy.

Members of GetEQUAL, environmental activists and others plan to protest outside the symphony hall.

In the past, the company has sometimes hired counterprotesters to draw media attention away from its detractors.

“ExxonMobil has received $1.3 billion in federal contracts,” said Daniel Cates, North Texas regional coordinator for GetEQUAL. “That’s why we’re pushing [President Barack] Obama on issuing an executive order.”

Such an order would require federal contractors to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies if they do business with the federal government.

However, Obama announced earlier this year that he doesn’t plan to sign the proposed order anytime soon.

“Most Fortune 500 companies realize that nondiscrimination is good for business,” Cates said.

A shareholder-initiated change to the policy has been proposed each year since Mobil and Exxon merged in 1999.

The percentage of shareholders voting for the policy has increased steadily.

Mobil was one of the first companies in the world to include sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy and offer benefits to the same-sex partners of gay employees.

But ExxonMobil rescinded those policies  after the merger.

This year, the resolution was initiated by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who wants the company to not only amend the nondiscrimination policy, but also to begin offering health benefits to the spouses of employees married in the Empire State.

The comptroller controls the state’s pension funds. As of May 18, New York’s pension fund held more than 16 million shares of ExxonMobil worth more than $1 billion.

“ExxonMobil’s failure to include sexual orientation and gender identity in its written equal employment policy has made the company an outlier among its peers,” DiNapoli told

Dallas Voice in an email. “From a shareholder’s perspective, this policy means that ExxonMobil isn’t able to attract and retain the best talent to come work for the company and puts its reputation in harm’s way. Until it addresses this issue of discrimination, we don’t feel that ExxonMobil will be getting the best performance to benefit our holdings in the company.”

In addition to devaluing the company’s worth by not attracting the best talent, DiNapoli claims the company is violating New York state law by offering spousal benefits to only some people married in the Empire State. This is the first ExxonMobil shareholder meeting since New York passed its marriage equality law last year.

This is also the first year ExxonMobil appealed to the Securities and Exchange Commission to have the shareholder resolution thrown out. The company based its claim on a nondiscrimination statement in its Corporate Careers publication.

The SEC refused to allow ExxonMobil to throw out the resolution, saying the publication doesn’t have the weight of a corporate nondiscrimination policy.

Meanwhile, ExxonMobil maintains the lowest possible rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, with a minus-25.

DiNapoli said he’s serious about changing corporate policies, especially related to domestic partner benefits. Denying those benefits, he claims, costs New York taxpayers money.
In the past three years, DiNapoli has negotiated policy changes with 27 companies.

A rare LGBT-related editorial in the Dallas Morning News on Thursday, May 24, called for ExxonMobil to expand its nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation. The editorial didn’t mention  gender identity or expression.

The upcoming ExxonMobil shareholders meeting has also been the subject of recent stories in The Advocate and the Washington Blade, two leading national gay publications.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 25, 2012.

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