July 2, 2003
Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, is broadening its anti-discrimination policy to cover gay and lesbian workers, bringing the company into line with most other big companies.

Virtually all of the Fortune 500 have similar policies but Wal-Mart is being pummeled by conservative Christians who apparently feel the company's Arkansas roots should make it immune to societal forces.

"Your decision is a very bad one and will ultimately cost you much more in lost business than you will gain. Dollar General and others will get my business," said M. Donald Duncan of Oklahoma City in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs.com. The new policy is "an offense to God Almighty," he added.

"Perhaps you can cater to thieves based on their actions and they can get a special invite to work at Wal-Mart too," said Joe Murcko of Johnson City, NY.

"We've had race, gender, age, disability. We're now including sexual orientation," said Tom Williams, a spokesman for the Arkansas-based retailer, the world's biggest company and largest private-sector employer.

The policy will not affect benefits, which Wal-Mart does not offer to unmarried partners of any orientation. But Williams said sexual orientation will be added to the company's existing "diversity-awareness" training programs.

Gay rights groups said that Wal-Mart has a history of fair treatment but they welcomed the explicit change in the company's policy.

"This action helps ensure that Wal-Mart's gay and lesbian employees will be judged on their merits, not on their sexual orientation," said Zack Wright, a lawyer with Seattle-based Pride Foundation, which pushed Wal-Mart to change its policy.

"It's a tremendous step forward, a real symbol of how far we've come in recent years," said Michael Adams, an attorney and spokesman for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Wal-Mart's action leaves only one of the 10 largest Fortune 500 companies -- ExxonMobil -- without an explicit policy banning discrimination against gays.