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Gay Walmart group PRIDE comes out 

But company's embrace of equality uneasy.

Page 3 of 4

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Laura Berry, spokesperson for the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, based in Washington, D.C., said her organization works with corporations to support the inclusion of LGBT suppliers.

"Walmart worked with NGLCC as a corporate partner in 2007," Berry wrote in an e-mail, "but the relationship was not renewed. However, we have more than 130 corporate partners, and we encourage all corporations to engage LGBT-certified businesses in their supply chains."

Walmart's refusal to fully support LGBT workplace equality was illuminated when it sought to open its first store in New York City in 2010. Gay rights activists joined small business owners and labor leaders in proclaiming the expansion of Walmart stores to be the expansion of antiquated employment policies.*

At the Bentonville headquarters, PRIDE members meet monthly. Support groups open with the classic "Walmart Cheer" but are closed to media. In recent years gay celebrities, filmmakers, experts and activists have been flown in, including Judy Shepherd, mother of slain gay youth Matthew Shepherd; Dr. William Bean, a Fortune 500 LGBT consultant, and Lisa Sherman, executive vice president and general manager of Logo, Viacom Media Network's LGBT channel.

The Human Rights Campaign reports that the Walmart Foundation has resumed making donations to gay organizations, including SAGE, an advocacy group for LGBT elders, Out & Equal, and the LGBT Bar Association. But several years ago, CEO Mike Duke inadvertently revealed his position on LGBT civil rights, after it was leaked that he had signed a petition in 2009 in support of an anti-gay adoption ballot measure in Arkansas. It passed by popular vote, but was later repealed by the state Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

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But PRIDE co-chair Bruce Gillispie believes that being gay at Walmart has never been an issue. The senior product development director, who has been out since 1988, said, "I haven't experienced the angst, drama or turmoil around questioning whether I can be out at Walmart."

Gillispie said Walmart PRIDE has recently started to reach out to store associates via its LGBT thread on the company's internal social network, "WalmartOne"

"And the reports I am getting from associates across the country are overwhelmingly positive," he said.

Gillispie concedes that other companies are leading the way on LGBT workplace equality.

"But for us it's more about fulfilling an obligation that we have to our associates and to the culture of the company around respect for the individual. We're charged with making company leaders understand our culture, so they can make the right decisions, set the right course," he said.

Walmart PRIDE is starting to swell, not only at the Walmart.com operation, but at Walmart subsidiary Asda's United Kingdom headquarters. Now members and allies can spot one another by a special lapel pin: the Walmart yellow spark over a rainbow.

"We are seeing this pin all around the world," said Gillispie. "People are starting to collect the pin."

But Jason Rogers, vice president of the Northwest Arkansas Center for Equality, said the rainbow pins are misleading.

"When I first saw the PRIDE pins, it actually shocked me," he said. "I could not believe Walmart would approve their starburst to be used that way. At first I was very snaps to Walmart. But at the same time it does not guarantee protection."

Members of the Northwest Arkansas Center for Equality will continue to celebrate the increments of Walmart's gay liberation. At the close of the annual gala, Jason Rogers pitched a concept to the slightly drunken crowd.

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