Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Double-Edged Sword of Consumer Boycotts

So there have been some calls by gay activists to boycott companies that have donated to Yes on Prop. 8. It's a sort of protest with your wallet.

While I generally try to be a smart consumer, buying fish that's sustainable or clothing not from known sweat shop countries, I think this Prop. 8 boycott is a bit tricky. Why? Because it's not really that easy to find the company donors. (Believe me, I tried looking through the database, conveniently organized by the Los Angeles Times, and still my eyes glazed over from all the names and small donors, but rarely did I spot a company donor. See for yourself here.)

What a lot of activists have been doing is putting up names of individual donors and then boycotting the companies where they work. Case in point: Scott Eckern, the artistic director of the Sacramento, Calif.-based California Musical Theatre. It was discovered that Mr. Eckern donated $1,000 to Yes on 8 campaign. People like Marc Shaiman (composer for "Hairspray") called for a boycott of the theatre group.

Here's an example of how one person's donation affected the employer and the employer's workers, who probably included several LGBT members. Is it fair for the others to suffer on account of one person's action as an individual? I don't think so, and neither did Mr. Eckern who resigned from his position to avoid any harm to the rest of the group.

What was interesting to me is in a statement Mr. Eckern released after his resignation, he noted that his sister is a lesbian and she supports him and he supports her. But I really wonder how much discussion on the topic occurred, and whether we as gays and lesbians need to engage even our own friends and family about why we believe marriage is the only civil unions that will be equal and fair? Maybe Mr. Eckern's lesbian sister needed to do more convincing so that her brother would not have written that $1,000 check in the first place.

And then sometimes if we do find a company to boycott where they clearly donated, then you run the risk of putting innocent workers out of a job in a really tough economy. Is that really the way to engender goodwill from heterosexuals who we need on our side of this battle?

I think the better approach is to support the companies who donated heavily to the No on Prop. 8 campaign. That means buying an iPod from Apple, ordering tickets from Live Nation, or doing your searching on the Web exclusively with Google (like you don't already). Let's support those who supported us, and that's the best way to exercise our pocketbook power.

Links to news reports on the case of Scott Eckern:
"Scott Eckern of California Musical Theater Resigns" (New York Times)
"Prop. 8 donor Scott Eckern explains his resignation" (Los Angeles Times)

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