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Human Rights Campaign sets new standard for 'Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality'

The country’s largest LGBTQ organization is demanding companies take a more public stance in advancing queer rights in order to receive its distinction.

The Human Rights Campaign announced Wednesday that companies wishing to keep their title next year of “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality” will need to advance the community's rights in the public sphere. 

Writing in The Advocate, HRC interim President Joni Madison said her organization would no longer automatically award the distinction to firms achieving a top score in the Corporate Equality Index, the group’s tool to measure companies’ support for LGBTQ workplace inclusion.

“Corporate social responsibility today is about going beyond HR plans and benefits,” she wrote in an op-ed. “It’s about the business companies do and how their values carry through everything they do — from internal policies to products to politics.” 

For the 2023 index, companies will still be able to achieve a top score of 100 based on the group’s existing set of criteria for measuring internal LGBTQ inclusion. However, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group said it will only recognize employers as the “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality” if they exceed its index’s benchmarks.

“Companies earning this distinction must have a 100 on the CEI and will need to be bar setters for how companies can do even more — from taking a stand in the public square against elected officials harming LGBTQ+ youth to mitigating the harm of their products and services on our community,” Madison wrote. “Importantly, to receive this award, they will need to be nominated by their workers.”

HRC published its first Corporate Equality Index in 2002. Back then, it rated companies on a set of seven factors, which included having written nondiscrimination policies protecting LGBT employees, offering health insurance coverage to employees’ same-sex domestic partners and engaging in “respectful and appropriate” marketing to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. 

Only 13 of the 319 rated employers achieved a top score of 100 in the inaugural index. The median score for rated companies was 57 that year.

This year, 1,271 employers actively participated in the index survey, which now uses an expanded set of criteria to assess companies. A top score was achieved by 842 participants, or two-thirds of respondents.

Yet, the recent wave of legislation targeting LGBTQ individuals, in particular transgender youth, has once again forced the group to move the bar higher for companies that wish to achieve the status of “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality.”

One company that claims this title is the Chicago-based financial services firm Morningstar, which has maintained a top score in the index since 2018.

“We’re proud Morningstar has earned designation as among the 'Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality' for five years in a row, and we certainly aspire to keep the streak going,” said David Williams, chief design officer for Morningstar and executive sponsor of the Out@Morningstar Employee Resource Group. “As a ratings agency ourselves, we recognize the power of ratings to drive transparency and accountability.”

Morningstar pointed to its support for the Equality Act as further proof that it is committed to LGBTQ equality beyond its own walls. If passed by Congress, the Equality Act would extend federal protection from discrimination and segregation to LGBTQ individuals.

But the change to the index also comes at a time when the corporate world has come under increased scrutiny for its alleged duplicity when it comes to advancing LGBTQ equality, particularly in the political realm.

Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign deducted 25 points from Fox Corp.'s index score of 100 following Fox News’ coverage of Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

“Fox News has a history of sharing misinformation and disinformation about the LGBTQ+ community,” Aryn Fields, the organization’s senior press secretary, told Deadline at the time. “We can no longer allow Fox Corporation to maintain its score if Fox News personalities and contributors continue to deny the existence of transgender people, minimize the violence transgender individuals face, refer to parents of LGBTQ+ youth as perverts, or equate leaders of LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion efforts with sex offenders.”

Beyond the Human Rights Campaign, organizers of Pride events have also reconsidered their relationships with corporate sponsors who make campaign contributions to politicians advancing legislation that, advocates say, would harm the LGBTQ community. Last month, Pride Northwest in Portland, Oregon, rejected sponsorship money from JPMorgan Chase after an investigation by Popular Information revealed that the firm made political contributions to anti-LGBTQ politicians through its corporate PAC.

JPMorgan Chase is among the 842 employers that achieved a top score in the 2022 index. But it is far from the only large corporation to finance the campaigns of anti-LGBTQ politicians, according to Popular Information.

In a statement to NBC News, JPMorgan Chase affirmed its “unwavering commitment to members of the LGBT+ community” and stated that the company “continues to promote an inclusive society where everyone feels welcomed, equal and included.”

“In communities across the United States, LGBT+ people and their families are facing barriers to, and erosion of, equal rights and protections,”  a spokesperson for the global financial services company said. “JPMorgan Chase opposes discrimination in any form, including homophobia and transphobia, as well as any public policies which could harm our employees, customers and the communities where we do business.”

While no one company spurred Human Rights Campaign to update the index, the organization maintains that the change aligns with the demands of employees and customers who support LGBTQ equality.

“Employees who see their company giving to extremist politicians, who see products being sold by their company that refute their existence, who hear lawmakers paint them as villains and are met by only silence from their companies, want ‘Best Place to Work’ to mean more,” Madison wrote in The Advocate. “We do too.”

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