As 2014 draws to a close, the LGBTQ community is able to reflect on the past year as one of many triumphs despite the continued challenges experienced in the fight for marriage equality. According to a Dec. 28 article from the LA Times, “Now, at the end of the year, same-sex marriage is legally approved in 35 states and the District of Columbia, and court reviews are pending in many others.” This means that a majority of Americans are now living in a state where gay marriage has been legalized, something that–for many–seemed insurmountable only a few years ago.
One prominent company that has served as a strong advocate and partner to the LGBTQ community is Ben & Jerry’s. A staple in the dessert world, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream has, arguably, never needed additional publicity to sell their product. However, they have proved themselves as a company that takes strides to consistently exercise the values and practices outlined in their mission statement. The employee-led Ben & Jerry’s Foundation utilizes grants to give back to communities and support social justice. According to BusinessWire, the foundation “…totaled $2.5MM in 2013 to support economic and social justice, environmental restoration, and peace through understanding.”
With very special thanks to PR Media Maven, Lindsay Bumps, Baltimore Dating Examiner had the opportunity to correspond with Ben & Jerry’s PR Poobah, Sean Greenwood, on the company’s values and efforts in respect to marriage equality, along with the ice cream brand garnering much acclaim as–yes–the perfect breakup remedy.
The argument that continues to be perpetuated against legalizing gay marriage is based on religious reasons. Considering marriage is an institution rooted in legal elements–not religious ones–what are your feelings on religion being utilized by some as a barrier to marriage equality?
Sean Greenwood: I think for us at Ben & Jerry’s we see the marriage equality issue as one of supporting equal opportunity versus defending dogma. Our mission statement includes the central belief that our operations occur in a way that command deep respect for individuals, improve the quality of our global communities, and recognize business as a powerful force in society to meet those needs.
How does Ben & Jerry’s feel about the arguments made by conservative personalities like Rush Limbaugh which allege that marriage equality will be a catalyst to things like people marrying horses, polygamy, courtships with minors etc.?
SG: We have actively supported equal rights and equal marriage for years whether it is within our own company, actively campaigning in the public within the U.S., or bringing the same outreach to other parts of the globe.
“We have only seen [the support of marriage equality] lead to more of a level playing field in terms of treatment of individuals. Since we’ve been doing this for a few decades I can’t recall one time where supporting someone to marry whom they love ever made any cataclysmic consequence for society.”
With respect to Mr. Limbaugh’s expectation of what that means next after the support of marriage equality – we politely disagree. We have only seen it lead to more of a level playing field in terms of treatment of individuals. Since we’ve been doing this for a few decades I can’t recall one time where supporting someone to marry whom they love ever made any cataclysmic consequence for society.
SG: Chick-Fil-A suffered a backlash when their CEO and President voiced that he was against gay marriage. Fox News host and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee became “incensed” over the backlash and made mention of Ben & Jerry’s on his show, noting that your company did not suffer the same ill will for being pro-marriage equality and supportive toward the LGBTQ community. What are your feelings on that?
Consumers are more savvy today, we’d assume because of the continued development of instant communication technologies in part, but also because there seems to be a greater awareness and connection. Consumers know when they purchase goods or services, they are indeed supporting the businesses behind those products which inherently includes an endorsement for the manner in which they operate. It’s encouraging, isn’t it, that people – especially younger folks – have such a strong link to their part of that equation and how they can hold businesses to a higher standard today. We’re not perfect at Ben & Jerry’s for sure, but when you try to do the right thing with your business, consumers and fans support you and when you fail or make a mistake, they seem to forgive you and expect you’ll do better.
“Consumers know when they purchase goods or services, they are indeed supporting the businesses behind those products which inherently includes an endorsement for the manner in which they operate. It’s encouraging, isn’t it, that people – especially younger folks – have such a strong link to their part of that equation and how they can hold businesses to a higher standard today.”
Historically, when we take a position on supporting same sex marriage or equal rights Mr. Huckabee will be glad to know that there is feedback that we hear both in support and against what we’ve done. I’ve personally had some really good conversations, usually on email, to explain why we’re doing what we do – and I hear feedback that consumers appreciate that we DON’T straddle the fence on an issue. We lay it on the line as to where we stand, which we hear is often appreciated. The difference for us at Ben & Jerry’s is that we do these things because we believe in them, not as a marketing outreach to have consumers like us. It’s not cause-related marketing. When we were interviewed after announcing our honorary renaming of our iconic and popular flavor “Chubby Hubby” to “Hubby Hubby” to celebrate same sex marriage in Vermont, The Advocate asked: “Are you just pandering to a niche crowd to sell more ice cream?” We answered that the action and decision had nothing to do with sales or marketing. It was simply because we believed in supporting and celebrating the historic decision for our home state.
SG: We have seen a lot of progress toward marriage equality in the past decade. With 2015 approaching, what are your predictions for the next year and decade in regard to LGBTQ rights? How can Ben & Jerry’s consumers participate in your stance and other causes you support?
We believe there will continue to be momentum of state by state adoption of same sex marriage. If you look back 20 years, and 10 years, it seems to be heading in a direction today that is much more mainstream and supported today. We’re not saying that there still won’t be challenges, but we’re positive about the future especially in terms of marriage equality. We reach out to the public – and have a better chance usually if they are Cherry Garcia fans – to share what our goals are as a socially responsible business. We also try to provide a place for folks to release their inner activist as well. Climate Justice will be a primary focus for us in 2015, so tune into benjerry.com and our social media channels to learn where you can make a difference.
SG: Finally, being that this is a “dating” column–I must ask–how does Ben & Jerry’s feel about being a staple of post-breakup comfort food? How can we enjoy it more during the “happy” moments of our romantic relationships?
We’re thankful that fans involve us in so much that’s close to their hearts, being it celebrations or getting them through the difficult times. We are always proud to hear when we’ve been voted: “The Best Break Up Dessert.” On the other side, we’ve been involved in many marriage proposals with renamed flavors or having an engagement ring inside a pint. We are very fortunate to have passionate fans. Equally, even when people bring us into their homes every day just for that special moment with their favorite TV show, or sitting with their sweetie on the couch, it’s an honor.
You can like Ben & Jerry’s on Facebook and follow the company on Twitter for frequent updates.