By: Sean Ferris, VA
As May comes to an end, Pride month follows, and you know what that means: Corporate “Rainbow Washing!”
Every June marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. These occurred in 1969, as a result of the raid of the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in New York City. Protests ensued from patrons and Greenwich Village residents leading to clashes with the police. These protests would serve as the spark for the gay rights movement. Six years after gay marriage was finally legalized, we continue to celebrate the convictions and sacrifices of those who worked to give equal rights to the LGBTQ+ community. Even as society pushes back and discriminates against them, the whole month of June is now reserved in observance of their perseverance. This month is also marked by another tradition; one that corporations and advertisement campaigns have held over the past few years. Unfortunately, while it can be so empowering to have major corporations with so much influence support the movement and efforts of Pride, their advertisements are undermined when those same businesses use that influence to hurt the movement.
Like clockwork, every year on June 1st, companies change their logos to be decorated with the gay pride flag. More recently companies are adding the modern pride flag that includes representation for people of color and transgender individuals. For many, this is a symbol of their convictions to the community. Likewise a number of companies donate to organizations like the Trevor Project as Doc Marten has done, and Levi who has a line of Pride merchandise, the profits from which they will be donating to OutRight Action International. However, the issue arises when companies use the facade of support with their advertisements in conjunction with donating to anti-LGBTQ+ government officials and organizations.
Five companies in particular have been called out for this deceitful pride: AT&T, Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, General Motors, and NBC Universal.
AT&T donated to legislators like Senator Mitch McConnell before the debate on the Equality Act. This act would protect people against discrimination, harassment, or victimisation in employment, and as users of private and public services based on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Senator McConnell has been vocal against many LGBTQ+ rights, particularly transgender rights, but has also been outspoken in his efforts to ease restrictions on corporations. Companies like American Airlines and Walmart have both donated hundreds of thousands to Senator McConnell and many legislators who hold similar beliefs, but this isn’t to say the companies are anti-LGBTQ+. The current Republican platform, with regards to the economy, is a belief in free market capitalism and deregulation of corporations. These major corporations mentioned previously have not explicitly donated to any groups with the main aim of limiting LGBTQ+ rights, but rather have donated to politicians who happen to hold those beliefs and also advocate for laws that could somehow make their businesses more fruitful.
Under the law, corporations have similar rights to individuals, but in reality they are a massively complex organization of people, so pinning down a single belief system that represents the entirety of any single corporation is impossible. The only laws consistently lobbied by these companies on both sides of the political spectrum are those that will in some way improve the wellbeing of the company. This leads to the unfortunate consequence that other morals may be thrown out the window with profits in mind.
There is hope, however, that the backlash companies receive from attempting to play on both sides of an issue as serious as LGBTQ+ rights will encourage them to reevaluate the way they spend their money in lobbying and PACs. The human rights campaign has stated that 416 major companies have signed a letter saying they stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community as multiple states see legislation restricting health care access passing through their chambers. These companies include Apple, Tesla, Starbucks, and so many others. Hooray… right? As much as this may bring many people faith in these companies, all but two of the businesses I previously mentioned supporting anti-LGBTQ+ politicians have signed this letter.
That is why this issue can be so frustrating. Companies have and will continue to play both sides, unless consumers stay informed and make choices about who gets their patronage based on their morals.