It was, and not that long ago, downright dangerous to attend a Pride event. Why? Because LGBTQ + people were at risk of being fired if their employers saw their picture in the newspaper, saw them on TV, or walked past at an inconvenient time. That’s why I never went to a Pride event in the first 15 years of my professional career. I was worried if someone from work saw me, what would they say? Or worse, what would they do?
Besides not going to Pride events as it would jeopardize my career, I also had to pretend to have girlfriends at work, go to strip bars with the guys and clients after work, hide the fact that I was living with my boyfriend, and going along with the plethora of gay jokes that floated around the office like germs. And to top it off, the only place you would see a rainbow flag was inside a gay bar, rarely outside.
I can read the comments on this column already, and many of them will call me a bitter old queen. That nickname – or any other, frankly – doesn’t bother me at all. The point of writing a column is to strike a nerve and spark debate in addition to enlightening. And it still amazes me to be able to write for this historical media, on issues and news affecting the LGBTQ community, with my signature under the title. Being outdoors never gets old.
But being called a bitter old queen to be grateful for something doesn’t strike me as very bitter.
The pink wash, or rainbow wash, seems to have reached a crescendo this year. If you don’t know what it is, I’ll try to explain it briefly. Basically, business builds up during Pride Month by using the Rainbow of Pride as an opportunistic way to make money. Many say that all the money spent on these marketing efforts should instead be spent helping LGBTQ + organizations that help at-risk members of our community. And that companies doing business with autocratic governments that ban homosexuality should not participate in Pride Month.
I agree with parts of this reasoning, but there is more to the story. First, I feel so much anger at these companies, with boycott efforts and petitions. It is above. And it is inappropriate. And for those of us who have had to go into hiding at work for decades or never dreamed of seeing a Ford logo sporting a rainbow flag, this glut of rainbow colors actually is. a dream come true.
The first thing to know is that Pride Month is arguably the most important fundraising time for LGBTQ + organizations, and there’s a reason for that. When these companies color their logos or sell rainbow socks, for example, there is usually a monetary plan behind the efforts that support LGBTQ + nonprofits.
I’ve spent over 30 years in public relations, and for the first 20 years or so, there was never any intention for companies to participate in Pride Month in any form. Every client or employer I have worked with in the first two decades of my career has never thought of publicly recognizing Pride Month. They would not dare to risk offending their customers, the religious right or their shareholders. They remained loudly silent in large part because restoring the LGBTQ + community was seen to be detrimental to the bottom line.
It is only recently, over the past few years, that there has been a rapid increase in the number of companies celebrating Pride Month. More so, again in recent years, many companies recognize their LGBTQ + employees, create resource groups for them, and schedule guest speakers or open dialogues in the office on LGBTQ + life and issues.
Also during this time, in addition to their marketing and internal efforts, companies began to work with LGBTQ + nonprofits and began to promote these relationships. As a PR manager, I remember writing my first Pride Month LGBTQ + partnership press release – in 2016 – and how amazed I was that this actually happened where I was employed. .
LGBTQ + businesses and organizations generally collaborate in two ways. First, companies make a large charitable in-kind donation to their LGBTQ + partner (s), and / or donate the proceeds from the sale of their rainbow-adorned products to these organizations.
Let’s just look at one industry, footwear. This year, Nike is donating a total of $ 625,000 to 18 LGBTQ + organizations. And its competitor Puma has said that 20% of the proceeds from sales of its Pride collection – with a maximum donation of $ 500,000 – will go to the Cara Delevingne Foundation, a Giving Back Fund project for LGBTQ + charities around the world. .
These examples are quickly becoming the norm, not the outliers. These days, if a business isn’t financially supporting an LGBTQ + cause during Pride Month, you should take your business somewhere else and tell them to fill in their rainbow logos where the rainbows don’t shine. . These are the companies that wash their pride, and I would be the first to call them.
Now back to the flood of rainbow flags, logos and profile photos. Opponents should appreciate each of them. For many of us, these welcome changes in openness, reality and prevalence of the Rainbow Flag have only happened in the past 10 years. I remember the first job I had where I could be a bit at work, and that was only 13 years ago. And I can tell you that this Fortune 500 company didn’t change their logo in my honor during Pride Month.
I also remember the very first time I saw a rainbow flag that wasn’t hung on the walls of a gay bar. It was in 2012 (it’s not even 10 years ago). My birthday falls during Pride Month and I was telling a colleague that George HW Bush’s birthday was the same as mine. She was curious as to what famous person might be born on her birthday, so we hit google, and voila. A rainbow flag next to the Google logo. My heart stopped when I saw this, and I almost cried.
None of these efforts should ever be taken for granted. It took decades of layoffs, office trips and numerous court battles, at great cost to litigants, to get there. Many of us remember the fear and anxiety that Pride Month would bring. You wanted to celebrate publicly, but the risks seemed so daunting.
And please don’t call us cowards because we weren’t proud at work years ago. When your livelihood and your career were at stake, the choice to remain silent was the safest choice. I have known people who have been fired for being gay, and it is a horribly destructive and frightening experience.
Despite the landmark Supreme Court ruling last year that said you cannot be fired because of your sexual orientation, LGBTQ + people are still fired and discriminated against in the workplace. In dozens of states, LGBTQ + people can still be legally evicted from their apartments, denied foster or adoption services, or be denied access to public facilities. This is why we need the Senate to pass the Equality Act, and business support for this legislation is crucial. The Human Rights Campaign’s Business Coalition for the Equality Act has more than 400 major companies on board, and is believed to be the largest coalition of companies to ever come together to speak out for of LGBTQ + legal equality. It is remarkable for me.
I can understand some of the anger against big business, but there has always been resentment that businesses only concern themselves with the bottom line and that they will do whatever they can to increase their profits. Yet this month, I’m thankful that they see the LGBTQ + community as important to their bottom line, and LGBTQ + employees as important to their culture. And that they are proud to show it by putting rainbow colors everywhere. The last thing I want to do is wash them.
John casey is editor-in-chief for The Lawyer.