US companies who have poured money into Pride celebrations have also spent millions of dollars backing politicians that voted against a landmark piece of legislation designed to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination. The Equality Act passed the House of Representatives in February but is yet to be passed by the Senate.
All but three Republicans in the House voted against LGBTQ+ equality. Those 206 politicians were bolstered, in part, by huge donations from US corporations.
Amazon, for instance, donated over $450,000 to politicians who voted against the Act according to data from The Center for Responsive Politics for the 2020 election cycle.
But the company is still happy to garner profits from queer identities. The company offers a special Pride store offering unicorn pool floats and rainbow-striped K-Swiss sneakers.
Fran Tirado, a writer and LGBTQ+ strategist, is critical of these advertising efforts. “In an ideal world, there would be no Pride campaigns. Brands and companies profiting off marginalized identities with bad, rainbow-washed advertising ploys is an abhorrent tradition of this country,” he said.
It’s not just products. Tirado watches his inbox get flooded every June with work requests. “Most queer and trans folks who get wrapped into any kind of marketing initiative this month often end up feeling exhausted, underpaid, tokenized, and exploited. But, because we exist under capitalism, Pride campaigns are obligatory – and often a key source of income for queer and trans people in media and entertainment spaces.”
Walmart has also donated over $400,000 to politicians that sought to block equality. The food giant has changed its Twitter avatar this month to be a rainbow colored-version of its logo.
Reporting record earnings (tied to pandemic-induced home improvement projects) Home Depot has also shown support for politicians that blocked the Equality Act. The company’s billionaire co-founder Ken Langone is a longtime donor to the Republican party.
Like Amazon and Walmart, Home Depot also makes donations to Democratic candidates (for instance giving a quarter of a million dollars to the Biden campaign). Many firms donate to candidates from both parties to hedge their bets when it comes to political influence.
AT&T also provided a huge boost to Republican politicians trying to prevent a federal law that would protect LGBTQ+ people. The company donated over $1m to 163 different Republicans including Steve Scalise ($22,150) and Kevin McCarthy ($20,881).
These totals only include donations to politicians that voted against the bill. But many corporations also made large donations to Mitch McConnell (for example AT&T gave him $56,295 in the 2020 cycle) despite his persistent obstructions to the Equality Act. In 2020, McConnell, then the Senate majority leader, refused to bring the act to the Senate floor.
There has been widespread anger in the LGBTQ+ community in recent years over the perceived corporate hijacking of Pride marches. In 2019 the Reclaim Pride Coalition launched the Queer Liberation March as an “antidote to the corporate-infused, police-entangled, politician-heavy Parades that now dominate Pride celebrations in a grotesque expression of societal forms of marginalization and oppression for Queer and Trans people”.
For Tirado, engaging with big brands is often necessary but “holding them accountable is a crucial part of how we ethically engage with these campaigns”. He adds, that’s why it’s added salt to the wound for any company to brag “allyship” and a rainbow logo while also donating to anti-queer efforts. “If you’re going to perform advocacy, we need to see it matched on your dollars too, resourcing queer and trans communities year-round.”
This year’s Queer Liberation March in New York will take place on Sunday, the same day as New York City Pride, one of the largest annual Pride marches in the world. Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot and others will not be welcome.