Metro Weekly

AmazonSmile lets shoppers donate to anti-LGBTQ groups

LGBTQ advocates argue some beneficiaries of the program are spreading "intolerance" or "hate."

amazon, amazonsmile, lgbtq
Photo: Christian Wiediger, via Unsplash.

A new report from a political watchdog organization finds dozens of anti-LGBTQ organizations have been able to fundraise through Amazon’s charitable donation program, AmazonSmile, despite accusations lodged against some of the groups that their work violates AmazonSmile’s prohibition on beneficiaries that promote “intolerance” or “hate.”

According to the United Kingdom-based website Open Democracy, more than 40 U.S.-based organizations that oppose LGBTQ rights or support conversion therapy efforts were listed on AmazonSmile, which allows Amazon customers to donate 0.5% of eligible purchases to charities of their choice.

Among these beneficiaries of AmazonSmile’s charitable giving program are:

  • Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal organization that has been behind the bulk of lawsuits opposing expansions of LGBTQ rights.
  • Family Research Council, a right-wing advocacy group that lobbies on behalf of socially conservative causes, including opposition to homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism.
  • Human Life International, which calls on people to “oppose the LGBT movement” and claimed homosexuality is linked to pedophilia.
  • The American Center for Law and Justice, which has been involved in court fights opposing marriage equality.
  • The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, whose leader, Franklin Graham, has frequently attacked LGBTQ rights.
  • And one organization mentioned but unnamed by Open Democracy that allegedly described the COVID-19 pandemic as the “consequential wrath of God” for behavior including “proclivity toward lesbianism and homosexuality.” That last comment was previously attributed to Ralph Drollinger, the president of Capitol Ministries, who leads a weekly Bible study group for leaders in government, including White House cabinet members. 

Both Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council were previously removed from the AmazonSmile program after controversy over their anti-LGBTQ statements and actions led some to object, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, which labeled both organizations as “hate groups.”

But earlier this year, under intense questioning from congressional Republicans — who used antitrust hearings to lambaste Amazon for allegedly being “biased” against conservatives, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos caved, opening the door to using different metrics to determine whether a charitable organization is ineligible to receive funds through AmazonSmile. 

Bezos told U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) that Amazon currently uses information from the U.S. Foreign Asset Office and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of known “hate groups” to determine whether an organization is ineligible for the funds.

But Gaetz alleged that using those two resources to make decisions was resulting in discrimination with organizations that hold “mainstream” conservative religious views, pointing to organizations like Catholic Family News, the American Family Association, and the Jewish Defense League.

Bezos conceded that Amazon was using an “imperfect system,” and said he’d be open to suggestions for other, more reliable sources that could be used to determine whether an organization should be removed from the list.

Related: RNC adopts resolution condemning the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “radical organization”

Under Amazon’s policy, organizations that “support, encourage, or promote intolerance, hate, terrorism, violence, money laundering or other illegal activities will lose their eligibility,” according to a company spokesperson who spoke to Business Insider.

Yet some of the organizations discovered by Open Democracy to be receiving donations through AmazonSmile include those that appear to violate those guidelines. One group has been involved in numerous court cases, both in the United States and abroad, opposing marriage equality laws, adoption by same-sex couples, or nondiscrimination laws.

Another organization’s leaders have claimed homosexuality “opens the door to the demonic realm” and that legalizing same-sex marriage “enforces” a “demonically-driven, immoral agenda.” Still another has attacked television shows, including American Idol, for increasing “social acceptance of homosexuality” by presenting LGBTQ people “as ordinary folks.”

A fourth, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA, has threatened employees who publicly disagree with its theological stance on human sexuality — including support for LGBTQ equality — that they could be subjected to “involuntary terminations.”

LGBTQ rights advocates have said such organizations should be removed from the AmazonSmile program immediately.

“Companies, if they really walk the talk, shouldn’t be giving their platform to organizations that are working to limit the rights of other people,” Evelyne Paradis, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group ILGA-Europe, said in a statement.

She added that while it is good that Amazon has a diversity of groups to choose from, they shouldn’t be helping promote any organization “that is actively fueling hatred and/or working against the rights of other people.”

Open Democracy contacted six of the organizations on the list seeking information about their compliance with the program’s nondiscrimination policy. Only the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association responded, saying it was “grateful to participate in the AmazonSmile program” and it “does not engage in unlawful discrimination and we do not promote intolerance.

“We hope AmazonSmile will continue to respect the rights and dignity of all people, and won’t discriminate against faith-based groups based solely on their sincerely held religious beliefs,” the statement said.

Robbie de Santos, associate director of campaigns and communications at the UK-based LGBTQ rights organization Stonewall, told Open Democracy that it was “disappointing” to see organizations that have worked against LGBTQ equality platformed on AmazonSmile.

“We have raised our concerns with Amazon and will continue our work until every LGBT+ person is free to be themselves worldwide,” he said.

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