When Marsha P. Johnson threw the infamous brick during the Stonewall Riots in 1969, the world had no idea that a rainbow wave was heading its way. But despite the unexpectedness of the movement, the LGBT community continued to fight for equal rights, and 50 years later we have surely come a long way. Of course there is no way to pinpoint the exact events that have helped us earn our rights, and it would even be silly to suggest that anything short of decades of hard work and sacrifice by millions of LGBT folks helped us arrive at where we are today. But, we can say with confidence that Pride parades and marches have helped the movement. And although Pride events have done wonders for the visibility of queer expression, modern Pride events have come under fire from many within the community (and many heterosexuals too, but that’s a much different blog post). Why? Well, a few reasons, but by far the most common gripe is the uptick in corporate sponsorship in the events.
As business interests in Pride grow, so does the rigid dichotomy between LGBT activists and corporate bigwigs. Community members see corporate interests as purely self-serving while businesses argue they are proud allies and are just supporting an important cause. Well, who is right? Short answer, I think both groups are right. ish.
Stay Away From Our Rally!
I get it, when we think about big corporations like Goldman Sachs, Exxonmobil and many others, we often can't help ourselves but think of a bunch of straight, old, white men, sitting around a conference table. Are these really the people who are deciding to slap a rainbow on their logo and call it an authentic marketing message? Unfortunately, sometimes the answer to that question is yes. And yet, it does feel like LGBT people are being exploited simply for monetary gains. After all, Pride movements around the world are not simply a celebration of our gayness, but a march for equality and basic human rights. If these brands are inauthentically participating in our rallies just to put on a facade of inclusiveness, why are we allowing them to participate?
“Why did you have to offend the gay community? It is the most organized of all the communities. They make the Japanese look like the Greeks.” - Liz Lemon
We Just Want to Be Allies!
Ok, but maybe the gays are being a little too fussy on this issue. After all, isn’t it a good thing that so many of the world’s biggest corporations are supporting LGBT rights? Isn’t it a good thing that so many straight people are supporting LGBT rights? Isn't it a good thing that all of these people are not only supporting LGBT rights, but supporting them loud and proud? I think so. 50 years ago there were very few allies championing equal rights, but today there are millions. That’s something to celebrate. The other big positive about corporate involvement in Pride is the money and exposure they give to these events. Prides are expensive. Administrative expenses, insurance costs, website maintenance all cost money, and you know who is paying for most of those bills? Big corporations who sign on as sponsors. The more corporations give, the bigger and better the events can be. The bigger the events, the more exposure we get, all within the name of working towards equal rights.
Gays to their straight friends during Pride Month
Some Final Thoughts
For the most part, it’s a positive that corporate America has rallied behind the LGBT community in recent years. Their support has helped propel acceptance among middle America and arguably helped make gay culture mainstream enough to where The United States legalized same sex marriage. However, I do think companies have to do more than put a float in a Pride parade and call it a year. Clearly, I believe we should welcome these groups with open arms at our events, but if your company can’t commit to offering trans people equal treatment or isn't making any effort towards diversity, maybe being a Pride sponsor isn't for you. In fact, just don’t do it! We can sniff out a phony from a mile away.
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