Saturday, November 15, 2008


When I entered grad school in the early 90s, I was surprised that no one in the gay community in South Carolina seemed aware of the Hit List. It's what we in Los Angeles informally called the group of corporations which had a history of contributing to anti-gay, anti-women, anti-human causes. Domino's Pizza neared the head of that list, as did Carl's Jr hamburgers, and especially Coors. That Colorado based beer company was at the time controlled by the Coors family, a group of right wing nut jobs who donated millions and millions of dollars to stamp out equality for everybody except white men. After a long (over a decade I think) boycott by the progressive community, the Coors company ousted its founders as CEOs, and reversed their positions, even offering domestic partnerships to their employees.

I've been thinking about that particular boycott, even as I now have Coors Light in my fridge. The Coors family still sits on the board of directors of that particular beer company, and receives profits from every can of beer I buy. And while the company which makes the brew is now progressive, the family is decidedly not. They helm a foundation which continues to do damage to equal rights around the country. So, technically, I am still funding hatred toward my own tribe and others.

This topic has reared its head in the past few weeks since the passage of Prop H8 in California. Due to the massive financial support the "Yes on 8" faction received from the Mormon church, the Marriott corporation has come under attack from those who want equal rights for all. Originally founded by a Mormon family, the company is currently being headed by Bill Marriott, himself a Mormon. Amid cries for a boycott, Marriott issued a sweeping statement which, while falling short of supporting equal rights, made clear his company's innocence of any wrongdoing:

As many of you may know I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some might conclude given my family's membership in the Mormon Church that our company supported the recent ballot initiative to ban same sex marriage in California. This is simply untrue. Marriott International is a public company headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, and is not controlled by any one individual or family. Neither I, nor the company, contributed to the campaign to pass Proposition 8.

Thanks for clearing that up, Bill. But as a Mormon, I'm sure you tithe, right? Every good Mormon does, in substantial amounts. So while your corporation steered clear of the Prop 8 mess, you still handed over 10% or more of your gross income to your church, which in turn poured millions into the "Yes on 8" campaign. Did you stand up at any of your church meetings and denounce your church's stand, or even decline to contribute monetarily to it?

I find myself unable to accept Marriott's claims of innocence. But his attitude is at least understandable. I lived in Utah for a summer, and am well aware of the stubborn prejudice of that state's citizens. All he did was be a Mormon.

Another betrayal hits much closer to home. Once the list of individual contributors to the "Yes on 8" campaign was made public, actors and others who scoured the list were astounded to discover that the artistic director of one of California's leading musical theatres had contributed $1,000 toward passage of the amendment. Scott Eckern of the California Musical Theatre, a Mormon if you couldn't guess, expressed disappointment and surprise that his donation angered the gay community, a community in which he has worked for many years. It's astonishing to me that this guy works day in and day out among dozens of gays, and still sent a thousand dollars to a campaign to rob them of marital rights. His participation ignited a firestorm, including a personal phone call to him from Tony-winner Marc Shaiman, the composer of Hairspray, who promised that no theatrical work under his control would ever be performed at the theatre. The producer of Broadway's Avenue Q, which had granted rights to CMT for a production this season, stopped short of yanking those rights ("we don't break contracts"), but members of the creative team were considering writing a new song about Eckern's contribution toward bigotry and placing it in the show.

Of course, this guy has every right to believe what he believes, and to contribute his own money anywhere he pleases. But Shaiman and other artists also have the right to refuse to allow their work to earn money for those who contribute to bigotry. As that Avenue Q producer said:

That a man who makes his living exclusively through the musical theater could do something so hurtful to the community that forms his livelihood is a punch in the stomach. He didn’t just vote for it. One thousand dollars is a lot of money for an artistic director of a nonprofit.”
As news of Eckern's stand against same-sex marriage spread, he backpedaled furiously by contributing another grand to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), but the damage of his innate bigotry was already done. California Musical Theatre accepted Eckern's resignation on Wednesday.