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Best Buy’s Commitment to LGBTQ+ Causes Questioned by NY State Comptroller

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The office of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has sent a letter to the top executives at Best Buy expressing concerns about the retailer’s support for inclusivity, specifically LGBTQ+ rights and equality. The letter was sent last month after a Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) filing revealed that Best Buy offered to “screen” employee group donations to several LGBTQ+ nonprofits as a response to pressure from a conservative think tank, the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPP).

As Comptroller, DiNapoli directs the investments of the New York State Common Retirement Fund on behalf of its 1.2 million members. The fund has been a longtime investor in Best Buy.

NCPPP had requested in December 2023 that Best Buy conduct a review of its giving and “voluntary partnerships” in order to prepare a report that would be distributed to Best Buy shareholders ahead of its June 2024 shareholder meeting. Ethan Peck, Free Enterprise Project Associate at NCPPP, wrote: “Best Buy has partnerships with and contributes to organizations and activists that promote the practice of gender transition surgeries on minors and evangelize gender theory to minors. Why are Best Buy shareholders funding the proliferation of an ideology seeking to mutilate the reproductive organs of children before they finish puberty?”

The NCPPP identified a total of eight organizations as “divisive to the American populace,” including two that Best Buy had supported in the past: the Trevor Project, which tries to prevent suicide among young gay people, and a book titled Our Gay History in 50 States. Peck also warned Best Buy against making future donations to mainstream LGBTQ+ groups including GLAAD, which tracks LGBTQ+ representation in media; GLSEN, which supports gay-straight alliances in schools; and Sage, an organization supporting older LGBTQ+ individuals.

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In a Jan. 17 email included in the SEC filing, Peck wrote: “Regardless of how I classify them (as predatory butchers), how you classify them (just another organization amongst a long list of organizations) or how they describe themselves (as saviors), the average American (and therefore the average Best Buy shareholder) is DEEPLY DIVIDED on these issues, which is exactly why Best Buy should stay out of it altogether.”

Best Buy’s Response

In a Feb. 5 response to Peck, Marina Rizzo, Associate Corporate Counsel, Corporate Governance and Securities at Best Buy, wrote: “We have reviewed our corporate funding to ensure the organizations we or our employees support align [with] our goal of a culture of belonging for all our team members. Through that review, we can also confirm that Best Buy does not support the other organizations you mention and, in the two specific cases of past support you raised in your email, the funding hasn’t happened in several years.”

Rizzo pointed out that Best Buy employee groups have “some discretion to directly support organizations of their choosing,” but added: “That said, any such contributions would be screened to ensure they do not advocate or support the causes or agendas you have identified as concerning.”

Apparently this was enough to satisfy NPCCC, which, according to an SEC letter on March 27, had withdrawn its proposal for a report to shareholders. However, Best Buy’s actions did draw the attention of DiNapoli. His April 25 letter says: “Diversity, equity and inclusion are fundamental values of companies with sound, sustainable and profitable long-term strategies. Inclusion is essential for employee recruitment and retention, a drive of innovation and an element of consumer brand loyalty.”

DiNapoli added: “I am concerned that Best Buy’s actions could be seen by shareholders, employees, customers and other stakeholders as a departure from its stated commitment to policies and practices that promote inclusivity and support for the LGBTQ+ community. Actions that compromise or are misaligned with a company’s core values and business strategy may result in reputational risk and threaten long-term shareholder value.”

Questions Remain About Best Buy’s Support

Best Buy appears to be trying to move away from this controversy. Carly Charlson, a Best Buy spokesperson, was quoted by CNBC saying that “Nothing has changed in the way we give to LGBTQIA+ organizations. At Best Buy, we strongly believe in an inclusive work environment with a culture of belonging where everyone feels valued and has the opportunity to thrive.”

Charlson added that Best Buy “has long supported and will continue to support the Human Rights Campaign,” noting that HRC has recognized Best Buy as one of the best places to work for the LGBTQ community for the past 18 years.

Other retailers have been caught in the cross-hairs of culture wars over LGBTQ+ support and representation, notably Target, which pulled Pride-themed merchandise from its shelves in 2023 in response to protesters vandalizing displays in some stores. Target CEO Brian Cornell reiterated the retailer’s support for the LGBTQ+ community but remained noncommittal about stores offering Pride-themed merchandise in the future.

In a March 2024 interview with Retail TouchPoints, Jim Fielding, an openly gay former retail executive, said: “I didn’t like their [Target’s] reaction of pulling or moving product; I felt they were kowtowing to the few loud far-right voices in the room. Target had been supportive of our community for over 25 years and I know it also has supported its own [LGBTQ+] communities and employees, but I thought their reaction to the negative press was an overreaction.”

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