Arthur Christory / Gavel Media

Corporate America: Enough Co-Opting Pride Month

The month of June marks the commencement of several things: summer break, sun tans, primary elections in many states. But, if you walk into any store owned by a major corporation in the US, you’re sure to forget about all of these. Instead, you will be thrown into a melting pot of rainbow labeled merchandise that calls all of your attention to corporate America's favorite part of June: Pride! 

Now, before beginning, I should make clear that being gay myself, I live for Pride Month. I like the visibility it offers (although this should exist year round), and I’m a sucker for a good parade in West Hollywood. I just am not the biggest fan of corporate America’s performative marketing campaigns. 

Since the Obergefell decision legalized same sex marriage everywhere in the United States, corporations have gradually embraced the queer community, as they saw American culture’s greater acceptance of our existence as an opportunity to expand their profit margins. Some corporations like Subaru—known for marketing its cars to lesbian women beginning in the 90s—back up their nominal support of LGBTQ+ people with substantive action. For example, Subaru provided financial support to queer causes in a variety of ways, even in the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Ikea is another example, which donates part of its revenue during Pride Month to organizations that seek to prevent suicide within the queer community (why not all year, though?). 

However, many other companies don’t always put their money where their mouth is. Take Adidas, for instance. While the company markets its special “Pride” merchandise during June, it was also one of the the largest sponsors of of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, a nation which is notoriously known for its use of legal discrimination against queer people.

Starbucks is another corporation that pledges support to the LGBTQ+ community but doesn’t necessarily make substantive change. On the first day of Pride Month, Starbucks tweeted recognizing the LGBTQ+ community and announcing its support of The National Center for Trans Equality. The tweet makes no specific reference to how the company will contribute to NCTE, but according to an article by Starbucks’ news site, they made a donation of $50,000 to the organization. To put that amount into perspective, in 2018 Starbucks was estimated to make $61.3 million every day.

Union organizers responded with demands for Starbucks to support LGBTQ+ workers by allowing them to unionize. Len Harris, a Starbucks employee in Colorado, tweeted: “I’m queer and a shift supervisor who has been working for your company since 2016 and I can confidently say that one of the best ways you can support my community is stop union-busting and recognize organizing partners.”

I understand that it is important to acknowledge how significant it is that many of the companies that used to deny service to queer consumers now dedicate an entire month to loudly proclaim their support for us. However, it is even more important to highlight that queer folks still exist once the parade floats are dismantled and the rainbow flags are taken down. And the most vulnerable of our community are reminded of an important truth: that they will continue to suffer while corporate America profits off of their backs.

If corporate America truly supported us as much as its merchandise and social media campaigns suggest it does, then why has it not done more to support Black transgender Americans, who are highly affected by unemployment, poverty, HIV, and discrimination in all parts of society? Why has the pharmaceutical company Gilead, despite its sponsorship of NYC Pride, not released its patent of Truvada so that uninsured queer folks—who are often people of color—can be protected from contracting HIV? Why have they not flocked to vehemently oppose state-sponsored attacks on young transgender people in states like Texas? The questions continue to pile up.

We cannot afford to be complacent anymore and accept vague corporate support of “equality” and “inclusivity” for all. We get that this is far better than the blatant discrimination of the past, trust me. But it’s important to put something in perspective: just seven years ago, it was illegal for two men or two women to marry one another in the United States. Despite the progress we’ve made in the past two decades, queer Americans are under attack once again in states all across the country. And the recent leaked draft opinion of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization—the case that threatens to overturn Roe v. Wade—uses legal reasoning that some argue threatens the foundational legal argument used in the Obergefell decision. 

So, corporate America, we have a message for you. If you want to truly support us and demonstrate your commitment to equality, start supporting progressive campaigns at the local, state, and federal levels. Increase your donations to organizations that do the important work of supporting the most vulnerable of us every month. Call out homophobic and transphobic government campaigns and use your resources and platform to combat them. 

Acknowledging our existence and our humanity should never be contingent on your ability to profit off of us. We are not here for you to commercialize our historical plight. The problems we face are important every year, every month, and every day.

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