Taking Stock

Getting in bed with shareholder activism is a path to corporate change

LGBT people often have to come out more than once. Perhaps you’ve started a new job and your encyclopedia-like grasp of Glee hasn’t tipped off the coworkers. Or you’re meeting long-lost relatives at Thanksgiving who keep asking your girlfriend if she has some nice gentlemen friends to introduce you to, because it’s crazy that a woman like you doesn’t have a boyfriend.

Now it’s my turn. Sure, everybody knows I’m a big ‘mo. That’s not news. What I’ve got to – gulp – admit, actually carries a hint of shame: I own stock in General Electric.

Stop looking at me like that. Because there’s more. I know you’re judging me, so I may as well come out of the capitalist closet with both feet: I also own some Chevron stock.

Before you let me have it for my lifestyle choices, let me explain some points that might lessen the blow.

About a decade ago, I had a couple hundred bucks that weren’t immediately sucked up by bills. It was a startling experience – but I liked it. There was no denying these new feelings. So I took it to the next level and stuffed some of that cash into a CD. Maybe it hurt a little, but mostly it felt good. Real good. You might think it unnatural, but that CD led me to an online broker.

Maybe my timing is bad, but I have to get this off my chest. You’re probably thinking of recent headlines that GE is bilking American taxpayers. Fair point. But the reason I bought my meager shares was because I’d read about some investments in alternative energy that this powerhouse was making. But if I thought so much about the environment, why on earth would I invest in Chevron? Chevron! What will the neighbors think? I hope they’ll cut me a little slack, considering I turned to Chevron in a moment of anti-ExxonMobil passion. If Exxon was going to be a homophobic jerk, I couldn’t wait to get into bed with its primary competitor – with its sexy top rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.

Some of you may feel betrayed by my proclivities. Downright immoral, you might call me. Planet rapist. Fascist. I get it.

I also get to vote. Granted, voting one’s shares is awfully different than the ”one person, one vote” rules of the civic arena. I get more than one vote with Chevron. Eleven, to be exact, out of about 2 billion Chevron shares out there. But my 11 shares voted in favor of the company having a human rights committee, for assessing financial risks from climate change, for a sustainability metric for executive compensation, and against the environmentally suspect practice of hydraulic fracturing.

While I don’t imagine my 11 votes will make even a ripple at Chevron, it’s better than nothing. If more Americans who feel strongly about sustainability and social justice purchased corporate stock, a movement could be made. Come to think of it, maybe I should not have acted so impulsively in buying Chevron shares in an effort to make Exxon jealous. I really should’ve just bought Exxon.

As I write this, Exxon is trading at $80.07. I’m probably good for one share. If everybody in America who could spare that amount and who wants to end the gas giant’s homophobic policies were to buy a share, maybe we could make some headway.

As my Chick-fil-A loving pal recently wrote on Facebook: ”If your goal is to be pure of all religious and anti-gay influences, you will have to eat only food grown in your own backyard, pull all your money out of every bank and operate on a barter-only basis with people who you know personally.”

That, he said, was not possible. But while dropping out would be awfully hard, buying in is pretty easy.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.