Walmart’s Rainbow Epiphany

It’s not Stonewall. It’s big-box, mainstream cultural change

Illustration by Ryan Olbrysh

Illustration by Ryan Olbrysh

I was still lying in bed reading headlines when I saw that Walmart was about to start giving health benefits to employees’ domestic partners. Right then, my rental house shifted beneath me a little—it’s a quiet suburban house that shares the Walmart aesthetic for mass-produced, affordable banality at a high cost to far-away workers and environmental concerns that are, like all that talk about vaccines, probably bogus anyway.

The house moved. I’m telling you. I sat up and held onto my bed, a bed formerly known as a key feature in a homosexual den of iniquity, now transforming beneath my ass into the Honda Accord of diversity: Walmart is giving same-sex couples benefits! My house, my boring little gay house, slipped over the mountaintop of the forever-long struggle for gay rights and slid, with me holding onto my years of sorrow, frustration and resentment, down the other side, directly but not straight into a field of rainbows and Village People and alluring, androgynous women.

I don’t shop at Walmart. I’d like to say it’s primarily because I’m a rich prick or a politically conscientious consumer who knows that her purchases speak louder than her Facebook posts, but really, I just can’t stand the lighting, or the density of all the racks and rows and mounds of crap. Plus I get nervous around large swarms of people, and worse, I feel a special kind of panic similar to drowning when I’m shopping in a sea that sells Every Possible Thing: broccoli and bras, office supplies and optometric services.

This is not to say I’m a hater of Walmart shoppers. On the contrary, I feel a spontaneous love for the more-authentic-than-you souls whose pictures turn up in photo threads dubbed, “People of Walmart.” Yes, I scroll through the candid shots and bust a gut like everyone else eyeballing the busting guts and peek-a-boo butts, but it makes me love us—people—even more. We’re truly an astoundingly diverse species. Beautiful. Even more so when our differences draw us together.

So I woke up that morning after fighting the good gay fight for more than 23 years—years in which Ellen came out on Oprah and then on Ellen; Will & Grace began and ended; 13 states repealed laws that prohibited sex between same-sex couples under the euphemistic term “sodomy laws;” 13 states legalized gay marriage and 21 states prohibited firing a worker because he or she is gay; “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was enacted and rescinded; the Supreme Court invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act; and my own cousin sat in line at Chick-Fil-A to support the company’s anti-gay-rights financial contributions—to find out that the win was finally in.

Walmart—America’s largest employer, because we’re a nation of skilled workers thanks to equal opportunity to solid, affordable higher education—says they’re going to recognize same-sex couples for employee benefits. The news was delivered by the grace of a Walmart executive’s begrudgingly written order, which called the change “a business decision, not a moral or political decision.” Glass half-full.

Of course it’s not over. My girlfriend and I would still have to drive to scenic San Bernardino County, California, from the chapel-packed Marriage Capital of the World to get a marriage license, thanks to the Nevadans who voted against gay marriage in 2000 and 2002. But change is coming.

And in the meantime, I won’t be a hater. I’m going to drop in at Walmart and greet the greeter with a big, bright smiley face of my own.