When General Mills, one of Minnesota biggest and best known companies, came out against the anti-gay marriage amendment, immediate backlash ensued. Minnesota for Marriage, a group supporting the amendment is calling for a boycott of General Mills products and has even launched a protest next week.

Minnesota for Marriage is made up of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the Minnesota Family Council and the National Organization for Marriage, three groups that have criticized LGBT groups for boycotting businesses that back anti-gay marriage amendment. But for a group that has accused the LGBT community of “intimidating” businesses for opposing marriage equality, the boycott and protests smacks of hypocrisy.

Last fall in the Star Tribune, Helmberger wrote:

“Regrettably, some gay-marriage activists have seen that intimidation can be an effective campaign tactic, and it has become standard fare in any marriage campaign,” he wrote. “Evidence in various court proceedings document case after case of harassment—phone calls at home and work, calls and e-mails to employers, boycotts of someone’s employer, calls to clients, etc.”

When General Mills decided to take a stand on a pressing issue in Minnesota — the company opposes the proposed amendment — what did Helmberger do? He launched a phone calling campaign to General Mills. He launched a boycott of General Mills, and next week, Minnesota for Marriage will be protesting General Mills in front of its headquarters.

“I know it seems odd for a company who spends billions of dollars marketing products to moms and dads with young children to do such a thing, but General Mills has tried to please a small minority of individuals who feel entitled to change the definition of marriage for all of society – They have calculated that we won’t fight back. They have grossly miscalculated us!” wrote Andy Parrish, the group’s communications director, in an email on Thursday.

“Starting Tuesday June 26th through Friday June 29th we will be holding ‘Dump General Mills rallies’ across from their headquarters from noon to 2:00 pm each day,” the email continued. “Join us. Bring your friends. We’re asking you to bring your General Mills products from home and dump it in our trailer – we will be donating the food to local food shelves. Let’s send a message to all companies in Minnesota – we won’t tolerate this. We will fight back.”

Another email from the Helmberger said, “Please let General Mills hear from you. Call them at 1-800-248-7310 and give them a piece of your mind! Many of you are choosing to boycott the company, and we applaud your decision.”

Minnesota for Marriage is also using campaign disclosure to attack General Mills. “In what will go down as the stupidest PR stunt in modern history General Mills as a company has endorsed same sex marriage – in fact – their CEO personally wrote a check for $10,000.00 to the main group trying to change the definition of marriage to ‘Genderless.’”

Minnesota for Marriage has been very outspoken about the kind of disclosure that they are now using in their campaign.

“To require groups, non profits like the Minnesota Family Council, to disclose their donors and make their donors names public would have a significant chilling effect on free speech. Even in Minnesota already it’s gotten heated in some respects,” Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesta Family Council, told Minnesota’s campaign finance board in June. “The concern is harassment, property damage, a chilling effect. If I know I have to disclose my name, I’m not going to get involved with the Minnesota Family Council.”

Prichard said he had knowledge of violence against donors to the Prop 8 campaign in California.

“They went after their employment, by challenging their employers. There was vandalism on certain organizations. I can think of one individual that his business suffered because he had to disclose,” he said. “I don’t think our organization should have to disclose our donors, period. We just don’t believe we should be forced to.”

The Star Tribune’s Katherine Kersten argued the same.

“A block thrown through a home window. Cars vandalized. Hate-filled anonymous phone calls at home and work. Swastikas scrawled on houses of worship. Physical assaults. Dismissal from employment because of political views,” wrote Kersten. “[T]his is the sort of intimidation that Americans who support marriage as the union of a man and woman can face today. Persecution of opponents is becoming a tool of the trade for some gay-marriage activists, who—ironically—seem to view themselves as beacons of tolerance.”

She added, “Now, the groundwork for such intimidation is being laid in Minnesota.”

As I pointed out in my article for the Minnesota Independent at the time, while there were isolated incidents of violence on both sides of Prop 8, most of the claims were overblown.

Helmberger in Star Tribune last fall wrote,:
“The Heritage Foundation produced a report documenting the extensive harassment that supporters of California’s marriage amendment (Proposition 8 ) faced, including loss of employment, death threats and property destruction. Regrettably, some gay-marriage activists have seen that intimidation can be an effective campaign tactic, and it has become standard fare in any marriage campaign.”

And apparently standard fare for proponents of an amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

The National Organization for Marriage appears to have a hand in the Dump General Mills boycott, protest and phone calling. According to Jeremy Hooper, the group purchased the domain name DumpGeneralMills.com last week.

Hooper predicts the Minnesota for Marriage activities will backfire.

“I could be wrong about this, but I really don’t think the sight of angry sidewalk protests against a corporation’s benign (and principled) support for equal rights is optically smart for those who are trying to deny animus towards LGBT people. When it comes to those opposed to LGBT rights, people associate these kinds of protests with street preachers and Pride condemners and funeral protestors. It doesn’t read as politically pragmatic—it reads as Fred Phelps.”

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Andy Birkey

Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

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