Tomorrow marks 50 years since the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village triggered a watershed moment for the gay liberation movement. The days-long backlash against ongoing police harassment is also the foundation of Pride Month, a time still important to our community to show and celebrate how far we’ve come. This time of year reminds me of a conversation I often have with my uncle: He’ll recite how great things were in the early post-war years, and I’ll just retort, “Yeah. For those who looked, lived and acted like you.”
To paraphrase a campaign from earlier this decade, it’s getting better.
No one would have imagined how life for the LGBTQ community has, for the most part, changed for the better a half-century later. Actually, what we’re witnessing now would have been unimaginable even a decade ago. Not only is an out and gay man running for U.S. president, but he’s polling in the top-tier of two dozen candidates; senior leaders at more companies, including the CEO of Apple, are openly gay; corporate logos all over social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter are sporting rainbow colors; and companies are stepping over themselves showing they are in lockstep with Pride Month.
Yes, much of the Pride Month brouhaha goes too far, and it’s understandable why plenty of folks within the LGBTQ community view corporate involvement with a wary eye. Pride Listerine at the very least elicits an eye-roll, and Pride Doc Martens are about as bananas as it gets. But our community has come a long way since the only companies that would dole out advertising spend showcasing LGBTQ individuals were beer brands—and they often limited such marketing campaigns to the gay and lesbian press.
At one level, there’s been improvement: Go to a Pride parade, and you’ll see a carpet of T-shirts sporting corporate logos. Companies that admitted they weren’t always welcoming to LGBTQ employees are now insisting that their corporate cultures have changed, and now the fact a rainbow flag has been raised over a corporate headquarters merits a press release.
Improvement hardly means that the work is done, however. The news site LGBTQ Nation makes the point that many companies celebrating Pride are at the same time donating to politicians hostile to our community—and the list includes some of the most recognizable initials in the business world, including AT&T, UPS, GE and UBS. Many of these companies score perfectly on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index; but as writer Matt Keeley explains, it’s hard to say you’re embracing the LGBTQ community when you’re also donating to political leaders like Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, who at one time claimed the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard was a “hoax.”
Finally, when we talk about LGBTQ inclusion, too many people are still left in the shadows. The community itself has its shortcomings, as Sarah Kim in Forbes insists that Pride Month isn’t always welcoming to those with disabilities. Too many LGBTQ citizens find they can marry legally thanks to the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision yet are afraid of being ostracized at work or even fired for not being straight. Discrimination against transgender workers is still occurring and falls under the radar too often. And queer people of color who feel Pride Month is just far too white, save some token representation in advertisements or on a stage, have a point.
When it comes to equality, for the most part, the business community is ahead of government; the challenge companies now face is to ensure such efforts are authentic, understanding, proactive, and not just about a brand’s reputation and marketing. Otherwise, Pride Month in the business world will devolve into the Earth Day of social justice—lots of hype, endless promotion, but then everything is forgotten the day after it’s over. It shouldn’t be that way.
Image credit: NCPA Photos/Flickr
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.