Jetlagged on my first morning back in the real world, I struggled to grasp what one of my favorite Starbucks baristas was trying to tell me.
"It's great about D.C., the pictures, you know," she sweetly said as she turned to fill the "Venti drip, no room" that she knows I always drink.
"What? Sorry. Total jetlag fuzz brain. Just back from Hawaii," I replied, pointing to my sunburn.
"You know! The couples! D.C.," she explained. "You guys doing that?"
Ohhh! Reality suddenly clicked into place: She was talking about the wonderful breakthrough in the nation's capital and the touching photos in The Washington Post of happy couples lining up for marriage licenses.
In all the rushed mornings she'd helped me wake up, the word "gay" had never come up. Yet she had put one and one together after hearing "Joyce and I" tales countless times as I had placed joint orders. "Venti drip" and "grande latte" had come out to her without knowing it.
"Oh, yes! Joyce and I are really happy for all the couples and their kids," I said, handing her the prepaid Starbucks card I wear around my neck with all my work IDs. "We got married in Canada in 2003."
As I left, I thought of how many dollars had passed from my hands through hers to Starbucks.
Money was very much on my mind: Joyce and I had just left a small pot of gold in Hawaii in exchange for hotel rooms, rental cars, gas, meals and, of course, Starbucks treats.
But in the scramble to briefly escape our inside-the-Beltway professional lives, Joyce and I hadn't paused to think about whether the companies we were rewarding with our hard-earned vacation dollars were respectful toward their gay employees and customers.
Spending money is a powerful tool to encourage good corporate behavior. But who has time to research the track records of businesses competing for our cash? Luckily, the Human Rights Campaign has made the task easy: Its "Buying for Equality" report color-codes the performance of hundreds of America's largest companies: green for most gay-friendly, yellow for works-in-progress and red for companies to avoid.
Already, 300,000 people have consulted the guide, HRC says.
Companies can score up to 100 points based on whether, for example, they have nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity, offer partner benefits, advertise for gay customers and steer clear of anti-gay activities.
For folks who leave the laptop behind when traveling, "Buying for Equality" ratings can be accessed through an iPhone application. Details behind any company's "color" are just a tap away.
Or, you can text "SHOP," plus the name of a business or brand, to 30644. Instantly, HRC will shoot back a color-coded rating, helping you rethink past choices or make new ones.
Taking a quick look at my vacation, for example, we flew on United Airlines (green: 88 points); rented from Hertz (yellow: 70 points); drove Ford Mustangs (green: 100 points); stayed at Hyatts (green: 100 points); bought gas at Shell (green: 100 points); and hit plenty of Starbucks (green: 100 points). And we each took our Apple iPhones (green: 100 points), with AT&T as the provider (green: 100 points).
Looking back, that makes me feel good. Next time, we'll take a quick 10 minutes to think through which companies to reward — and how to tell them why they won our loyalty.
But as my sweet barista made clear, workers have amazingly accurate gaydar these days. So Joyce and I will still drop by Wal-Mart (red: 40 points) on summer camping trips to buy tennis balls and sports drinks. It's important for companies with room for improvement to see gay customers.
Corporate America has rapidly progressed in respecting its gay employees and customers. Gay dollars, spent thoughtfully, can really pay off.
Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues. To find out more about Deb Price and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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