It’s difficult for companies to take a stand on important issues. This is even truer when the company is a big, consumer brand like TOMS Shoes and the issue is gay rights. Granted, TOMS’ Founder Blake Mycoskie didn’t mean to take a stand for TOMS when he spoke at a June 30 event held by Focus on the Family (FOTF), an anti-gay rights evangelical organization. The internet, however, isn’t going to let Blake off the hook that easily. Just check out some of these articles from around the web:
Ms. Magazine: TOMS Joins Forces with Anti-Gay, Anti-Choice Group
As the controversy gathered steam, Blake issued “A Sincere Apology” on his blog (it’s never a good sign when you have to call your own apology sincere). He claimed he was unaware of FOTF’s position and said he supports “equal human and civil rights.”
So that’s more or less what happened. Here’s what I think about it:
1. Focus on the Family sucks
Their founder, James Dobson, is well-known for saying things such as (in the wake of 9/11) “we need to accept the truth that this nation will suffer in many ways for departing from the principles of righteousness. The wages of sin is death.”
2. Blake’s apology was BS
Didn’t know about their position? Come on. Blake claims that TOMS carefully vets the organizations it gets involved with. A monkey with a lap top could’ve done a better job on this one. Seriously, a Google search takes 0.23 seconds. And what does it mean that he supports “equal human and civil rights?” Who wouldn’t support those things? That’s like saying you support breathing or believe in gravity. If it was really a mistake, he would’ve at least come out and said “I support gay rights.” Which brings me to my next point…
3. Blake probably isn’t psyched about gay marriage
He’s a Christian dude. According to the pastor, he attends Mosaic Church in Los Angeles, is close friends with well-known Christian leaders, and is a regular fixture at numerous Christian events every year. There’s nothing wrong with being a Christian, but many religious people do consider homosexuality to be a sin. And Blake’s apology conspicuously stops short of condemning FOTF’s agenda or supporting gay rights. Explicitly coming out in support of gay marriage would’ve gone a long way towards resolving this controversy. The only reason not to: he probably isn’t psyched about gay marriage.
4. Blake is allowed to believe whatever he wants…
Lots of people are against gay marriage. I don’t hate them for it. I don’t refuse to speak to them. I don’t ask the guy behind the deli counter about his opinion before I buy a bagel from him. Blake is allowed to be against gay marriage.
5. … but, you’re allowed to care what he believes
You’re allowed to care what Blake thinks about gay marriage. I understand the argument that Blake has done so much good for people in need and for the socially-conscious business model that it shouldn’t matter what he thinks about gay marriage. But I also understand why some people might see things differently. Imagine a gay couple waiting to be married. Who am I to tell them that shoes are more important than gay rights?
I feel for Blake. I think he was doing what he thought was the right thing and found himself suddenly in a very tricky situation. Much of the response to this controversy has been hateful and reactionary, and he certainly doesn’t deserve that. At the same time, I can’t just forget about it. People have a right to care. There are millions of gay men and women around the country and the world struggling to achieve equality under the law. 4sight and I, as the founder, support the fight for gay rights, including the right to marry.