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11/08/2011

Discrimination Inc. takes stock of corporate practices; sells cheaply

by Jeremy Hooper

The National Organization For Marriage is doing that thing that the social conservatives loves so much. Namely: They are taking obvious truths that nobody rejects, cherry picking certain commitments made by certain people in decision-making capacities, and structuring the whole thing so that what's really an unchanged response (or at least unchanged merit) becomes some sort of validation or even victory for their discriminatory cause.


The situation this time: Frank Turek's consultant contracts with certain vendors.

The issue: Turek goes around the country saying that gays and "radical Muslims" both "hate Western civilization, both hate Judeo-Christian natural law values that our Constitution and particularly our Declaration of Independence were founded on"; promoting the idea that gay people are embracing harmful, "illegitimate" and "changeable" behavior on par with that of sociopaths, alcoholics, or even gay bashers; likening same-sex marriage to human/beast marriage; and claiming that gay activists are "acting like racists" in their quests to do things like serve openly in the military.

The players: Cisco and Bank of America, two companies who recently chose to not continue contracts with Turek

NOM's old claims: That the aforementioned companies were engaging in anti-Christian, anti-"traditional marriage" bigotry against Turek; that the companies were somehow violating Turek's rights because they chose to not continue contracting with him

NOM's new claims, via 11/7/11 press release:

Washington, DC — The National Organization for Marriage's Corporate Fairness Project today announced that both Bank of America and the Cisco Corporation have promised not to discriminate against employees or vendors who publicly oppose same-sex marriage.

"After interviewing Frank Turek about the abrupt cancellations of his seminar by both Cisco and Bank of America, we wrote to the board of each company raising our concern and asking if company policy really permits otherwise qualified employees and vendors to be punished for speaking out on a public issue like same-sex marriage," said Jonathan Baker, Director of NOM's Corporate Fairness Project.

"We also reached out to 10,000 customers of Bank of America in Charlotte, North Carolina, who in turn generated 1,400 calls to the corporate complaint line asking the board to promise they would not discriminate in the workplace against supporters of traditional marriage. We received assurances from both corporations that this kind of discriminatory treatment violates corporate policy and will not happen again," continued Baker.

In a November 4, 2011 letter to the National Organization for Marriage, Cisco Corporation Senior Vice President for Legal Services Mark Chandler agreed that, "Cisco was incorrect in dealing with Dr. Turek and the Austin Group. Specifically Cisco concluded that the Austin Group's contract should not have been summarily ended."

Further Cisco attributed the situation to "an unfortunate, but isolated breakdown in Cisco's process, and have taken steps to ensure it does not happen again." Most importantly Cisco has clarified that voicing a traditional view on marriage is not an acceptable reason to fire an employee or discriminate against a qualified vendor. "It is not Cisco's policy, nor is it ‘acceptable to discriminate against vendors such as Frank Turek or employees who, outside the work context, have taken a position supporting marriage as the union of one man and one woman,'" wrote a Cisco executive in a letter to NOM.

Senior Vice President of Global Human Resources for Bank of America also quickly distanced Bank of America from the firing of Dr. Turek – stating:

"We recognize that our differences – in thought, style, culture, ethnicity and experience make us stronger as a company," and that, "we have taken the appropriate measures within our organization to address this matter. Dr. Turek remains a vendor in good standing with us."

Baker responded, "We're grateful these two companies have made it clear they will not tolerate discrimination against employees or vendors based on their views on same-sex marriage. As Frank Turek said, it's simply un-American as well as unwise for anyone to say you have to share one politically correct viewpoint in order to keep your job."

"This is not the end, it's the beginning of NOM's campaign to make sure decent law abiding people who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman are not treated as outcasts or racists. It is not bigotry to say that marriage is the union of a husband and wife, it's common sense; corporations need to respect the diverse views of their employees and customers," said Brian Brown, "We respect the work of corporations like Cisco and Bank of America, which should not be dragged into cultural or political wars, but we also believe corporations should respect the rights of each of its employees, vendors and customers to have their own views and exercise core civil rights to express those views in the democratic process."

Now, NOM doesn't offer up copies of any of the letters, so there's no greater context given. But for those of us who follow this sort of thing, we know this is. This is old hat.

6A00D8341C503453Ef014E8Be7726F970DWhat surely happened: In correspondence with NOM, both companies absolutely committed themselves to nondiscrimination for everyone, including those who are against same-sex marriage -- something that virtually every single marriage equality advocate also supports. I've had my own interactions with Cisco employees ever since this Frank Turek situation began, and that's the gist of what they told me as well: That the company supports fairness, that they noted some shortcomings in the way Turek's contract was dismissed, that they would review their procedures, etc. Plus even back in July, a high-ranking Cisco employee told me that Turek is, like all of us, still eligible to "bid on future work as a vendor." Responses that all make total sense, considering the nature of business. The usual corporate interest is in killing the controversy, not fueling "culture wars."

But what NOM is now doing is taking these same sorts of points that have been concrete for months and both twisting and aggrandizing them so that they seem like some big, NOM-provoked change. For instance, they are taking comments pertaining to the procedural way Mr. Turek's contract was handled and acting as if any intra-company inconsistencies in that area mean that any and all concerns about Turek's contract were without merit. Or they take a clarification about not discriminating against "employees who, outside the work context, have taken a position supporting marriage as the union of one man and one woman" -- which, again, is something most equality activists support -- and act as if that means a contractor's political engagement is off the table of consideration altogether (hint: it's not). And of course more than anything else, NOM is taking these isolated quips and sandwiching them in with their own quotes, talking points, and code words to make it sound like Bank of America, NOM, and Cisco are now bosom birds of the same "traditional marriage" feather, all speaking the same language. NOM is acting like this whole thing shows their organizational strength, when it seems to be little more than an example of corporations responding to controversies with the measured, parsed language that is standard to business.

The reality of Turek, his words, and their potential damage remains unchanged. NOM can continue to paint Frank Turek as a mere marriage supporter in their own press releases, but the truth of his record (which goes eons beyond just marriage -- see some of the above links) will not bend to NOM's whims. Anytime Turek applies for a role with any sort of company, a dissenting voice might very well bring up his aggressive comments about "unnatural" homosexuals and put them on the boardroom table as part of his contract consideration. Within most companies that support inclusivity, Turek's aggressive anti-LGBT advocacy will be seen as a negative. In some cases, his advocacy may not be enough of a negative to kill a potential deal; in other companies, it likely will be. But even if Cisco and Bank of America both choose to kill future contracts that Mr. Turek submits, those decisions wouldn't invalidate any of the commitments that NOM isolated in the above press release. Because a way of dealing with his contract that's more fleshed out than in the prior instance still won't mean that he gets a pass or an automatic "in," just like a commitment to not discriminating against employees who view marriage as man/woman-only doesn't mean completely overlooking the engaged political advocacy of a man who says gay people's "lifestyles" are "illegitimate" & "destructive" & "changeable." For the LGBT employees who also deserve nondiscrimination, corporate fairness, and basic peace of mind, Frank Turek's all-out war against their "lifestyles" of "documented health problems" goes well beyond "traditional marriage" support. No disingenuous NOM press release will change that hard truth.

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