As the official beginning of the holiday shopping season is set to start, US gay group the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), has released a new guide listing hundreds of popular American brands ranked by their company’s gay friendliness.

The publication, Buying for Equality, breaks products into easily distinguishable purchasing categories.

Companies and their products are compared using the criteria of the HRC Foundation’s nationally respected Corporate Equality Index, which evaluates LGBT workplace policies and practices.

“When the American consumer hits the malls the day after Thanksgiving, we hope our guide, ‘Buying for Equality,’ will be in their hands,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese.

“Every single day, those who support equality have an opportunity to vote and put their values into action by utilizing their pocketbooks. Our community has billions of dollars worth of buying power and we intend to use it this holiday season. By purchasing products from companies supporting LGBT equality, you are sending a message that will be heard loud and clear.”

This is the second year the Human Rights Campaign has published “Buying for Equality,” a powerful tool to empower equality-minded shoppers. Last year, the guide was downloaded off of HRC’s website more than 250,000 times.

The popular guide draws comparisons between products, services and retail outlets that consumers use on a daily basis. For example, this year’s guide includes comparisons between retail giants Gap, which receives a “green” rating with a 100 percent, perfect, score, and Abercrombie Fitch, which receives a “yellow” rating with only a 50 percent score.

The ratings are based upon the HRC Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index which this year found, for the first time, more than half of Fortune 500 companies now offer domestic partnership benefits to their employees. Also, this nationally recognised report showed that 138 companies received a perfect 100 percent score this year – a tenfold increase in only four years.

Seventy percent of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are very or extremely likely to consider a brand that is known to provide equal workplace benefits for gay and lesbian employees, according to research by Witeck-Combs Communications and Harris Interactive.

“I encourage consumers this year to take a moment to support companies that support equality,” Mr Solmonese continued. “This holiday season, each one of us can do our part to help secure equality for all Americans.”