The Other Side of the Rainbow: When Pride Is Not Enough

World Pride NYC 2019

MANHATTAN—While 100,000 LGBTQ individuals and their friends, supporters and partners took to the streets in Manhattan on Sunday, June 30, 2019, the international media were out in force to capture every nuance of what was said to be the largest gay pride celebration in the world. It was the day that World Pride Day joined NYC Pride for a jamboree of celebration filled with floats, balloons, corporate endorsements, and political handshakes. LGBTQs had their moment of glory around the world, and the world was watching.

Unfortunately, not much of the world got to see the other side of the rainbow. That’s where some 48,000 gays and lesbians, disenchanted with the party and commercialization of the Pride Parade, marched an opposing route, duplicating one which was used back in 1970 in the first remembrance of the Stonewall Riots.

Starting at 9:30 am, hours before the “official” Pride Parade took up position protected by barricades and police escorts, there were 20,000 rebels from a group calling itself the Reclaim Pride Coalition. They walked unofficially, unprotected, and with purpose, in the self-labeled Queer Liberation March.  As they moved, their shouts to on-lookers “Off the sidewalk; into the street” had an energizing impact on spectators-turned-participants as they joined the march and more than doubled their strength by the time they eventually reached Central Park. There, they were met by comedian/playwright Marga Gomez, who vocalized an issue that is beginning to fracture the LGBTQ community.

“Our parades all over the country have been bloated by corporations using product placement and free advertising and all these coworkers who aren’t even queer—they’re not even allies,” she said. “They’re just there because they think they’ll get beads.”

What started as a riot has turned into a party where gays smoodge with police and corporate types making nice, as streams of delight and air kisses, marching bands, and politicos waved at crowds of delighted throngs who had traveled the from around the globe to witness this moment in history.

“Soon after same-sex marriage became legalized, gay and lesbian activists relaxed their guard,” said Bill Hagner, who had traveled from Chicago to join the protests. “I think we all did. Corporations began plastering their bottles with rainbow flags, and we fell into this trap of being loved and accepted.

“It is only now, years later, that we are learning that corporations don’t love us at all. They target us for our money and pretend we are equal when all the while they are out there supporting politicians that openly deny us our rights. The very same corporations that throw beads here today are the ones who would fire us tomorrow since there is no law protecting us from being discriminated against. And the current Republican administration is going to make damn certain that there never is a law.”

For the tens of thousands who joined in the Queer Liberation March, and the hundreds of thousands who are just waking up to that fact that their own local Pride parades are becoming a neighborhood party—a branded excuse to act and dress as flamboyant as possible in clear disregard for anything resembling a call to reflect the fact that the LGBTQ community is still not equal—50 years after the Stonewall Riots.

“When I look our President, who claimed to be the ‘most LGBTQ friendly Republican candidate ever, in 2016’ twisting the knife in the back of every single gay, lesbian and transgender organization, legal ordinance, and potential legislation that he can in the name of religious freedom, it makes me sick,” said Maggie Moore, a straight mother of three who had protested during her hometown West Hollywood Pride parade, and was protesting again at World Pride.  “Wake up, gay America.  When they are not shaking your hand and selling you a bill of goods or some overpriced tee-shirt with a lot of glitter on it, they are calling you ‘fa**ot’ behind your backs. Or burning your flag when no one is watching.”

Or worse still, taking corporate profits earned by marketing to gays and donating it directly to anti-LGBTQ politicians.

In an article by Matt Keeley published in LGBTQNation and reposted on this site,  he made reference to giants like AT&T, UPS, Comcast and Home Deport who spent over a combined $9 million endorsing homophobic politicians, while pinkwashing their corporate exterior to appear accepting and inclusive. Keely added General Electric, FedEx, UBS, Verizon, and Pfizer to his list as well, adding nearly $6 million more in donations to redneck politicians plotting every single day to keep our nation “safe” from the sins the serve to segregate LGBTQs.

The meat of Keeley’s article came from Popular Information, a Substack independent newsletter that publishes four times a week and rips its way through traditional media to glean a razor-sharp focus on unusual issues. It was an eye-opener in any number of ways but reflected just the scum on a far deeper pond of corporate behavior that seems two-faced at best and outright betrayal at worst.

No mention was made of PriceWaterCoopers, the accounting firm of Oscar Award fame, and a bronze-level sponsor at World Pride. Among PWC’s total political contributions last year was $891,000 to anti-LGBTQ Republican candidates, according to OpenSecrets, whose database contains information on millions of donors.  For instance, it is difficult to understand why a bronze-level sponsor of World Pride would donate any money to Alabama Republican Congresswoman Martha Roby who not only is against same-sex marriage, she thinks it is weird that transgender people should have the right to use the restroom of the sex by which they self-identify.

Chase Bank, a gold-level sponsor at NYC Pride, sent mixed messages as well. While its advertisements were celebrating “millions of moments of Pride,” JPMorgan Chase gave 62% of its political coin to Republicans including Andy Barr from Kentucky, Kevin Brady from Texas, and Steve Stivers from Ohio—all of whom voted against the Equality Act and were rated 0% by the Human Rights Campaign. Hello?

The special edition rainbow striped aluminum bottle of Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Bud Lite was seen everywhere during Pride parades across the country. And why not? Anheuser-Busch pledged that for every case sold of the striped brew, the company would give $1 to GLAAD, up to a whopping $150,000. What the company didn’t mention, via special edition or any other way, was the $263,000 of company profit was given to anti-LGBTQ Republican candidates running for Congress in 2018.

To gays, TD Bank told us: “Be you. Be free. Be forever proud.” And we believed them, or at least until we learned that in 2018, the financial corporation gave $101,000 to Republican congressional candidates. Among them was Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader whose dislike for gays and lesbians is legend; not to mention John Barrasso (R-WY) and David Perdue (R-GA), who oppose same-sex marriage; plus Bob Corker (R-TN), who has voted against LGBTQ+-inclusive hate crime legislation.

Yet none of the other big league corps can possibly hope to equal the bewilderment created by Absolut Vodka. If ever there was a loyalty bond between a brand name and the LGBTQ community,  it is the one that links us with Absolut. Even its website proud proclaims: “Since the early 1980s, Absolut have been supporting the LGBTQ+ community. It is our firm belief that a colorful, diverse and respectful world is something to strive and work for. Everybody should be able to be, exactly who they are.”

The entire post-Stonewall generation knows Absolut as sponsors, friends, and supporters. Surely not Absolut too, you ask? Admittedly, it isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, given the hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of LGBTQ causes that the vodka’s parent company, Pernod Ricard, has spent. It, therefore, begs the question of why would Pernod Ricard give $20,700 to anti-LGBTQ Republican candidates? A token, to be sure. But not as small a token as the $3,000 the company gave Democrats in 2018. Is this a new way of playing it safe that allows 40 years of loyalty to be left dangling like a misplaced participle in political one-upmanship?

For its part, Smirnoff Vodka is having none of it, and calling out its competition. Its very out, very gay VP Jay Sethi said, “We welcome the scrutiny. Bring it on.”

Smirnoff’s parent company Diageo is working with trans activist/actor Laverne Cox on a year-long campaign that doesn’t require a Pride month to bond it with the community. The company is donating $1.5 million to the Human Rights Campaign knowing that it must follow through within the corporation’s inclusive employment policies as well its publicly stated goal of equality for all.

“Watch us,” Sethi said, with a hint of well-deserved brag. “Brands have to do it the entire year rather than just one month. Otherwise, what’s the point?” 

Right now, many in the LGBTQ community are asking the exact same question.

Richard Hack is an award-winning author and journalist; and an outspoken advocate for equality in business and government, as well as neutrality in news media.

Contact Richard

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