Wal-Mart right to market to gays

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Embracing the gay market is a smart and savvy move for Wal-Mart. But what of self-righteous extremist groups that now feel betrayed? The right response: Ignore their vacuous threats.

Wal-Mart's decisions to work with a gay-marketing agency, Witeck-Combs Communications, and to form a partnership with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce have been met with shock by anti-gay zealots.

The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins asked consumers to challenge Wal-Mart on why it chose to "fund radical social activism." The American Family Association issued a twofer "Action Alert" kvetching about the chamber deal and about how Wal-Mart-owned Sam's Club is promoting "holiday cards" rather than Christmas cards; it requested "a small gift" to support its, well, radical social activism.

The gay market is mainstream. The majority of Fortune 500 companies now provide insurance for domestic partners (up from zero in 1982); more than 175 Fortune 500 brands advertised last year in the gay press.

What's Wal-Mart's agenda? Sell more goods, build more stores, reshape its image. It has a chance to appeal to gay consumers, influential taste-setters both as customers and suppliers.

Wal-Mart in 2003 added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy, last year staged an in-house seminar called "Why Market to Gay America," this year stocked "Brokeback Mountain" DVDs and now is said to be mulling domestic-partner benefits. It's a sponsor of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. At each step, it's stood up to fanatical flak.

Combine gay and diversity initiatives with the retailer's work to improve environmental practices and promote affordable organic foods, and Wal-Mart is establishing progressive bona fides. These are all pieces of the puzzle that can help Wal-Mart win up-market consumers, gain allies as it presses to build more urban stores and let Wal-Mart, not union foes, define its image.

Wal-Mart believes in true family values: a good deal for everyone, straight and gay. That's the American way.
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