State Farm agents across the nation received angry calls on Monday from customers either threatening to cancel their insurance policies or having them canceled after learning that the company was partnering with The GenderCool Project to donate books on transgenderism and the gender gap to students to “increase representation of LGBTQ+ books and support our communities in having challenging, empowering, and important conversations with children Age 5+.” State Farm’s Jose Soto sent an email to some agents on January 22, 2022, announcing the program.
The business was closed on Monday, after its chief executive officer reportedly heard from more than 22,000 independent State Farm agents nationwide (and likely an influx of customers). The company announced it would end its relationship with the GenderCool Project.
What happened? Did State Farm agents know about the partnership and accept it?
It is evident that those Florida agents to whom Soto sent the email in January, along with, at the very least, a handful of other agents across the nation, were aware of or took part in the program. However, many State Farm agents claimed they weren't aware of the program and were enraged when they learned that State Farm was involved with GenderCool. Because of their contracts with State Farm, the agents requested their names not be printed by the press. One agent from the Midwest told RedState, “We’re an insurance company who’s known to be conservative. That is why this is so shocking. I can assure you (I’m on a private Facebook page for agents only at 4000 members) that 99 percent of us are beyond pissed.”
An agent from the West Coast said, “This low level woke employee has hurt us so badly. We agents are independent and 100 percent commission. In addition to supporting my own family, I have three employees, including two single mothers, and I worry about this harming our business and possibly having to lay someone off. My own sister said that if it wasn’t for me, she would change insurance companies immediately.”
A third-generation agent from the West Coast shared, “This bothers me so much because this is the family I’ve known and loved my whole life. And today, for the first time, I’m not proud to be an agent.”
A third-generation agent from the Southeast explained, “We are flooding the offices in Bloomington with phone calls, emails, everything, letting them know how bad this is for us in the field. All we agents want is for our company to fix our insureds’ cars, rebuild peoples houses, and be there for our insureds when a loved one dies and we deliver a check for life insurance.”
Agents themselves were asking themselves how this could have happened. As a second-generation agent said, “A big ‘why’ that was circling among agents and in private Facebook groups Monday night was: ‘How in the world was something like this green lighted and not run by agents’ groups for vetting?’ No way this would have ever been greenlighted had this been run by agents.”
Many agents mentioned that the 100th anniversary of State Farm's convention is set to be held in Las Vegas, and they anticipate that the company's executives will be bombarded with inquiries as well as complaints and demands that agents be involved in the decision-making process regarding the organization's charitable efforts. They are the primary points of contact with customers, and charity efforts are often completed by agents. It is not yet known who approved the partnership, their level in the corporate ladder, or if they were provided with all the information regarding the details of the partnership. According to a recorded message to agents sent out on Tuesday morning, the partnership wasn't reviewed at the highest levels prior to being launched.
Soto is far down the food chain within the corporation, compared to State Farm's chief diversity officer, Victor Terry, who ultimately is the person accountable for the partnership that has since been ended. Soto's job title has been changed to “Corporate Responsibility Analyst” and his areas of responsibility are stated in the footer of his email as “Florida and National Hispanic Relationships.” Soto apparently reports to David Coakes, corporate responsibility manager, who is situated in Florida. Coakes is accountable to Apsara Sorensen, director of Public Affairs, who works at the company’s headquarters located in Bloomington, Illinois. Sorensen reports to Rasheed Merritt, AVP of Corporate Responsibility/Diversion & Inclusion, and Merritt reports to Terry.
In the text message, State Farm Executive Vice President and Chief Agency, Sales, and Marketing Officer Rand Harbert admitted that the “involvement” with The GenderCool Project was a mistake, insisting that the partnership was not reviewed at the highest levels.
In the transcript, Harbert said, “In the last 24 hours, Michael and I have heard from many of you; he and I have been in constant communication about our participation in a book program with GenderCool. First and foremost, I want you to hear directly from me that we made a mistake with our involvement in this program–and we’re sorry. As soon as we fully understood the issue Monday morning, the first decision we made was to cease our involvement with this organization. Let me be clear, our position is that conversations with children about gender and identity need to happen at home. Our philanthropic budget is $60 million annually, and we work hard to deploy those dollars to causes that are important to our customers, agents, and employees. As much as we would like to be aware of every program and involved in every decision, it’s simply not possible as most of these gifts are small. In this case, it was $40,000. However, we recognize even small decisions can have a big impact, and we’re taking the necessary steps so nothing like this happens again. I’m sorry you and your teams are having to spend time on this issue. We’ll provide a link today to a statement that you can share with customers. I wanted to address it this morning because I know this is a distraction for you and your offices. Thank you for everything you do to serve our customers… and especially for what you’re doing right now.”
A source at the State Farm corporate headquarters, speaking under the condition of anonymity, stated that State Farm is quietly reviewing the entirety of its philanthropic partnerships thoroughly.