Buried toward the lower end of the New York City Pride parade’s partner section on its website, beneath community organizations devoted to the cause of advancing equal rights for LGBTQ people, are slew of corporate giants which have little history of positive activism.
They’re all organized under a tier system, with banks and beer companies trading in solidarity with other public firms, characterized by their respective “platinum,” “gold,” “silver,” and “bronze” statuses. It’s the kind of sponsorship roster you might expect of a NASCAR event or college Bowl game, but Pride is a tradition rooted in radicalism; its catalyst was a brutal and unlawful crackdown against New York City’s gay community by the NYPD in 1969, culminating in the Stonewall Riots and the ensuing decades of activism that propelled gay rights to the mainstream.
You may have found that your company conveniently latched onto Pride after gay marriage became legal, but such corporate “solidarity” can often feel hollow, especially when a company’s actions don’t live up to its rhetoric.
How to know if a company’s pride campaign is bullshit
There’s only so much goodwill that a rainbow-themed profile photo can engender, especially if a company broadcasts a message of support but donates millions to anti-LGBTQ politicians.
Knowing, for example, where your employer might donate some of its excess cash (if you work for a company rich enough to donate to political campaigns) is a good place to start. You can follow the money through a number of databases such as the Federal Election Commission’s website or Open Secrets to see if your firm’s CEO or board members are particularly cozy with anti-LGBTQ PACs or Super PACs. There’s also the Progressive Shopper, which largely does the same thing, albeit with consumers in mind.
There’s also the question of what a company does for its LGBTQ employees on a tangible level. It’s easy for corporate messaging to reach an apex during June, when Pride celebrations are in full-swing and a glut of firms are flying the rainbow flag, if only to not be outdone by each other. It matters more, however, what a company actually does for its employees when the limelight is shone elsewhere. Many particularly well-heeled companies donate to LGBTQ causes merely for the sake of positive PR, but might waiver on things like trans-inclusive healthcare or insurance that covers mental health, for example.
As a 2018 Vox article conveyed, it’s really a climate of slacktivism that prevails when big companies cash in on Pride fervor:
So money going to LGBTQ charities is a good thing, right? In the abstract, yes, but taken in aggregate, this consumerist donation structure creates a context of so-called slacktivism, giving brands and consumers alike a low-effort way to support social and political causes.
Basically, any company that champions LGBTQ issues for the expediency of marketing is one to be wary of.
What to do about your company’s performative support
Many companies have internal resources and groups for LGBTQ employees, but keeping the door closed can only affect so much change on a broader level. Educating others, particularly those who are non-LGBTQ, is an imperative part of building a more inclusive workplace.
Talking openly about the use of non-binary pronouns or normalizing the singular use of “they” can do more to ensure that there isn’t a climate of micro-aggressions operating behind the public veneer of inclusivity. More broadly, eliminating gendered language from written company policy can do much to include non-gender conforming workers.
Another way that managers and people at the top can promote the cause is to make diversity and inclusion part of the employee review process. That makes it a formal part of the criteria, instead of a a vague idea that sounds nice in theory but fails to be actualized. You can also push the company to ensure the same benefits for LGBTQ employees and their straight colleagues. That means guaranteeing paid parental leave to anyone who has a child.
From a top-down perspective, it might be worth it to hire a specialist to train workers on the fundamentals of LGBTQ inclusivity, ideally through in-person workshops.
One of the most effective ways to harness collective power is to unionize your workplace, which allows workers to formalize a series of workplace standards that then become legally codified. Of course, the overall success of your union campaign hinges on the cooperation of your employer, but the aforementioned benefits (and plenty of others) can come through this process.
Though corporate solidarity might ring hollow more often than not, it’s possible to make it less so, if only through collective action. Is there anything more indicative of the spirit of Pride than that?