Corporate America is the latest battleground for one of the country's cultural clashes. Despite a host of anti-discriminatory measures for age, sex, disability, ethnic background and religion, no federal laws exist to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
According to campaign group Out and Equal Workplace Advocates, 35 states allow companies to fire employees based on sexual orientation. Organisations must determine themselves if they need such policies.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) civil rights organisation ranks companies on gay-friendly efforts, ranging from written harassment policies to gay-targeted advertising. Some 81% of corporations reviewed offered health benefits to domestic partners, and many firms include language about "gender identity or expression" in their discrimination policies, covering transgender workers.
Defence giant Raytheon recently added such language to its already inclusive discrimination policies. While gay-friendly companies attract gay clients – annual American gay purchasing power is estimated at $641bn (£350bn) – the missile maker is safe from accusations of pandering.
Adding gender identity to equality policy at Raytheon was "matching the talk with the walk," said Raytheon's chief diversity officer Hayward Bell, in the HRC report. Regardless of its progressive and open tone however, Raytheon declined to comment – a reminder that the issue is a sensitive political one.
The Ford Motor Company recently encouraged shareholders to defeat a motion demanding removal of protections for gay workers, after a year-long scuffle with conservative groups that launched boycotts.
A similar resolution at American Express citing "illegal sex acts" met a comparable defeat. The company played no role in getting shareholders to trounce the motion, but the company's culture is widely known, said Bet Franzone, HR public affairs manager. "It's not a political thing; it's just a matter of creating an inclusive work environment. Of course, not everyone is going to be happy."
The company's individual treatment policy is "very broad and very, very explicit," said Franzone. "It includes sexual orientation and gender identity." The latter was recently added, although there was no clamouring for it. The firm watches the market and organisations that track company policies. She adds that a new HR training module on "