(CNSNews.com) - Wal-Mart, a company well known for its conservative culture, says it will not tolerate discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the nation's largest retailer now specifically includes homosexual employees in its anti-discrimination policy.
"It's the right thing to do for our employees," said Mona Williams, Wal-Mart's vice president for communications, in a telephone interview with the New York Times. "We want all of our associates to feel they are valued and treated with respect - no exceptions. And it's the right thing to do for our business."
Another spokesman for the Bentonville, Ark.-based company, Tom Williams, said the change will not affect benefits, which Wal-Mart does not offer to unmarried partners of any orientation, but he noted that sexual orientation will be added to the corporation's existing diversity-awareness training programs for employees.
Wal-Mart's new policy was a result of efforts by several investment management firms, including the Seattle, Wash.-based Pride Foundation, which had purchased stock in the company and considered putting forward a shareholder resolution asking the corporation to change its policy.
With more than a million employees and 3,500 stores across the country, Wal-Mart has a reputation as the largest family friendly company in the nation.
This image led a conservative family group on Wednesday to accuse the corporation of buckling to the homosexual agenda by choosing to include private bedroom behavior in its corporate handbook.
"Just as Neville Chamberlain gave in to Nazi Germany's outrageous demands, so Wal-Mart has capitulated to the radical homosexual agenda," said Stephen Crampton of the American Family Association (AFA).
The AFA believes the next step for homosexual activists will be pressuring Wal-Mart to extend health benefits to same-sex partners of employees, followed by corporate recognition and support of homosexual clubs and public events like "gay pride" parades.
Wal-Mart's image was also the focus of response from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a homosexual advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., that applauded the company's new policy.
"Because Wal-Mart has a reputation as a conservative company that caters to Middle America, this policy change is especially meaningful," said HRC Education Director Kim Mills.
"As the largest private employer in America, Wal-Mart has sent a powerful signal to all American companies that this policy is necessary, important and good for business," Mills added. "We hope this further opens the way to making such policies a standard business practice."
Mills also noted that nine of the 10 largest Fortune 500 companies now have rules prohibiting discrimination against homosexual employees, with ExxonMobil Corp. as the lone exception.
However, a representative for Focus on the Family expressed that organization's disappointment with Wal-Mart's policy change, focusing his criticism on the "sensitivity training" the company's employees will now undergo.
"Focus on the Family shares Wal-Mart's commitment to treating all people with dignity and respect," said Bill Maier, vice president and psychologist in residence for the conservative organization, "but this sensitivity training offends the values of the vast majority of Wal-Mart's associates and customers.
"Singling people out for their differences is a profound betrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King's dream, and that is exactly what Wal-Mart's policy does," Maier added.
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