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Wal-Mart may face holiday boycotts

Conservatives hit retailer for its support of gays

NEW YORK -- A conservative group that had called on supporters to boycott Wal-Mart's post-Thanksgiving Day sales to protest the retailer's support of gay-rights groups withdrew its objections yesterday.

The American Family Association, which had been asking supporters to stay away from Wal-Mart on Friday and Saturday -- two of the busiest shopping days of the year -- said it was pleased that Wal-Mart had pledged in a statement to stay away from controversial causes.

Wal-Mart said it would make changes in the way it contributed to groups, earmarking funds only for specific causes it supported, such as workplace equality, rather than giving unrestricted gifts.

A prominent gay-rights leader, Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign, said the change was minor and praised Wal-Mart for sticking with its commitments to diversity and equality despite the threats from the American Family Association.

"I don't see it as backpedaling by Wal-Mart," Solmonese said. "I think the AFA failed, and thought to themselves, 'Let's declare victory and hope nobody notices.' "

However, another group critical of Wal-Mart was skeptical.

Wal-Mart's statement "is a confusing contortion of words that make it completely unclear whether Wal-Mart still supports equal rights for the [gay and lesbian] community or not, and worse, raises real questions as to whether they caved to the pressure from the religious right," said Chris Kofinis of WakeUpWalMart.com.

While stressing its support for diversity and nondiscrimination, Wal-Mart said in its statement that it "will not make corporate contributions to support or oppose highly controversial issues unless they directly relate to our ability to serve our customers."

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams said the company would continue working with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and other gay-rights groups on specific issues such as workplace equality.

The firm's statement, she said, resulted primarily from concerns expressed by customers and staff, not from the boycott threat.

There was no immediate word from a second conservative group, Operation Save America, on whether it was reconsidering its plans for prayer-and-preaching rallies outside many Wal-Mart stores on Friday.

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