By Jeff Fuller
In the past, corporations were not keen to involve themselves in LGBTQ Pride parades. Eventually Pride celebrations gained sponsorship by a few liquor companies, local boutique stores, gay bars and nightclubs, and manufacturers of personal lubricant. Today, it’s common to see Fortune 500 companies attending Pride festivals and parades decked out in rainbow. We now see rainbow trails marking our Uber routes, rainbow logos and emojis on social media, and rainbow bunting outside just about every store front, even at businesses not normally considered gay-oriented. More and more companies want a slice of the rainbow cake, but a lot of people aren’t too happy about it.
Some point out that Pride has its roots in a riot against police harassment and should maintain its traditional identity as a civil rights protest rather than a big party with corporate sponsors. Others note that corporate sponsorship creates a more sanitized, “family friendly” version of Pride, taking the sex out of a celebration of sexuality. Much like Christmas, Pride is our own holy holiday on which people complain of over-commercialization and express a desire to return to the true meaning of the holiday.
Additionally, some complain that participation in Pride allows companies to give lip service to supporting the LGBTQ community through presence in the parade or turning their logo rainbow for the month of June, acts that are no longer radical in this day and age, while doing things behind the scenes that actually harm the LGBTQ community, exploiting us while seeking to maximize profit.
While the heavy presence of corporations in our Pride celebrations has changed the character of these annual events, corporations coming out in favor of the LGBTQ community has provided our community with power that we did not have in the Stonewall era or even as recently as the early 2000s. Corporations can act as advocates, serving as agents of change while our legislators are failing us. For example, Georgia corporations successfully lobbied against the passage of the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act, convincing the governor to veto the bill.
The desire of corporations to participate in Pride events reflects important cultural change and, in my view, should be nurtured rather than rejected. I don’t want to go back to 1969 or 1999. I am grateful to live in times in which companies are trying to join my gay parties, sell me their goods or recruit me to come and work for them. Having companies join the Pride parties allows for larger celebrations, promotes greater visibility and encourages the larger community to accept us. In the U.S., it is becoming more common to see straight people attending the festivals. The more this happens, the more homophobia will be considered unacceptable.
At the same time, I have no illusions that because soft drink companies and airlines are marching alongside me in the Pride parade, all is right with the world. We must remember that we are still in a battle for our rights and even our lives. The more we enlist the help of companies, even if these companies are problematic, the more likely we are to succeed in creating a society that accepts us and protects our rights. Winston Churchill, who led Britain through World War II, spoke wise words when he said that “[t]here is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.”