Exxon Mobil will no longer allow banners of outside organizations on its flagpoles, angering some employees who in the past had flown a rainbow pride flag.
The new policy allows only government flags and those representing Exxon Mobil and its employee resource groups, which are employee-led affinity organizations that are generally blessed by employers. Workers can display the pride flag and representations of other groups like Black Lives Matter on other areas of the company’s properties, including on lawns or in digital spaces.
“It is a longstanding practice at our facilities around the world that ERG flags can be flown during signature months,” Tracey Gunnlaugsson, vice president of human resources at Exxon Mobil, said in a statement. “The flags are directly related to our business and company support of our ERGs”
The logo for the company’s employee resource group for LGBT employees includes bubbles filled with several colors around the word PRIDE. That logo has been flown at offices and is used on T-shirts that employees wear at Pride parades.
Current Exxon employees declined to comment. J. Chris Martin, a former employee who used to head the resource group, said that a different flag featuring the Exxon logo on a rainbow background “was flown at many company locations last year without question” but that he had been told that approval to display that flag had been revoked “without explanation.”
“I’m also told that the employee resource groups were consulted only in a perfunctory way regarding this matter, based on momentary discomfort with displaying a symbol of open-mindedness and support for long-suppressed voices,” he said.
“While they may say nobody has lost anything, the symbolism is unmistakable,” he added.
The Human Rights Campaign, an organization that works to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, criticized the company for the policy, saying on Twitter: “There’s no such thing as ‘neutrality’ when it comes to our rights. Our flag isn’t just a visual representation of our identities. It is also a staple of allyship.”
The decision, first reported by Bloomberg News, came as corporations have increasingly been pressed to be more outspoken on cultural and political issues. Disney, long quiet on such matters, has been in a fight with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida over a new state law, officially known as “Parental Rights in Education” — or, to its critics, “Don’t Say Gay.” The measure prohibits classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in some elementary school grades. Disney opposed the law, leading Mr. DeSantis and state lawmakers to revoke a special tax designation Disney enjoyed in the state.
Exxon was long considered a foe of gay rights, particularly after it merged with Mobil and eliminated that company’s policies that barred discrimination based on sexual orientation and provided benefits to same-sex couples. Exxon has since reinstituted those policies, and its rating in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index has risen to 85 out of 100 in 2022, from negative 25.
Clifford Krauss contributed reporting.