In 1969, LGBT Pride meant taking to the streets in protest. Brave individuals risked their jobs, friendships, families, and even their lives, to say: We’re here! We’re Queer! Get used to it!It was a time of revolt, where the community reached a boiling point, and they were no longer going to hide in the discreet bars, corners, and closets, where they had been relegated. 1969 was a time for anger, and a time for demonstration.
As a gay man, in 2016, I have reverence my predecessors’ sacrifices. I have a profound respect for the groundwork they laid, so I could be out and raise a family in a more progressive world.Without their courage, my life would have taken a different course, as would the lives of millions of other LGBT people. I’m thankful, in 2016 that, although we have much work to do, we no longer live in a 1969 world.
Despite recent politics, we have more allies, and the world is changing. In the weeks leading up to the 2016 Salt Lake City, Pride Parade and Festival, one outspoken LGBT activist placed his personal interests above the greater good, to make a public statement, denouncing the participation of corporations in the festivities.
This individual claimed that corporations were seeking to profit from a community that had historically leveraged parades and festivities, as a form of protest. Corporate participation, he claimed, would thereby degrade the intent of Pride, and demean the sacrifices of past LGBT leaders. This person, pretending to represent the broader LGBT community, gained media attention, as he thumbed his nose at the very people who are catalysts for change. At this year’s Pride Festival, I observed a large number of corporate participants in the vendor booths. I was delighted to learn about Netflix’s new presence in Utah.
I grinned as eBay employees played games with children, throwing beanbags to win prizes. Kimberly-Clark employees tossed out rolls of paper towels and tissues, which made the recipients laugh. Other booths included financial advisors, realtors, lenders, legal experts, and professionals, who tailored their products and services to the LGBT community. In an effort to be objective (and looking for ulterior motives), I challenged the Overstock.com employees (managing a booth of furniture to be donated to the Utah Pride Center), about their Chairman of the Board, Jonathan Johnson, running for election as Utah Governor, on an extraordinarily conservative platform.They responded that his views were his own, and had nothing to do with the company. With glitter on their arms, and smiles on their faces, they said that they have inclusive policies that respect, and include, LGBT employees. This is our first time participating here, and we’re happy that our company would be here.
I walked down the center of the festival, toward the City / County Building, and noticed an imposing, semi-truck trailer, with a national brand, Kohler, on the side. Proudly, sitting next to the mobile showroom, LGBT, and straight ally employees, from Kohler and the local company, Standard Plumbing Supply, spoke to me about their corporate policies. Leslie Hugo, stood to greet me, and as we spoke of their presence in the festival, she said one of the reasons I wanted to work for Kohler, is because their policies are responsible, and they are socially active.
On Sunday morning, during the parade, American Express employees marched down the street with a banner stating Look how far we’ve come.The banner was followed by employees carrying Stonewall protest signs, AIDS awareness signs, angels around images of Matthew Shepard...all followed by two women sitting in a convertible, with Just Married signs attached to the car.
I interpreted their message as one of solidarity, and celebration of progression in LGBT rights, over the decades. In addition to corporations at the Salt Lake City Pride Festival, more than 80 CEO’s, of major corporations, recently signed a letter urging North Carolina Governor, Pat McCrory to repeal recent, destructive transgender bathroom laws. In 2016, corporate influence is critical to making boarder, impactful statements, as motivation for change.
Target is taking criticism for its stance, on transgender individuals using restrooms aligned with their identity, but is holding its ground. Campbell’s Soup and JC Penny have published affirming ads, including LGBT individuals and families.These companies are bringing LGBT from the shadows, into mainstream culture.
Corporations are, indeed, motivated by profit. They do see potential in capturing LGBT dollars. Sometimes though, they make choices and just do the right thing.They make sure that, despite how local laws are written, we’re protected in our jobs. They influence politicians. They use their powerful voices to speak for those who would otherwise struggle to be heard.They see us. They hear us. They are one, with us.
The LGBT movement began with a small band of people, who protested for their rights. Today, we celebrate their accomplishments, and our own achievements, over time. We now rejoice, with our allies, and Pride now unites us all for equality and respect for one another. There are still times when it’s appropriate to be angry, and our Corporate allies amplify our message, when it needs to be heard. While we need to maintain room for our smaller, supportive groups, we’re all now, one big family...and I’m happy we could all party together.