Corporate America has embraced Pride but made some crucial missteps

June 30, 2021, 1:37 PM UTC
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Hundreds of companies showed their support for the LGBTQ community this month in many forms, but some have faced criticism for actions perceived to be disingenuous or hypocritical in celebrating Pride.

As more and more companies incorporate the rainbow flag into their social media profile pictures, some have also been accused of “rainbow washing,” or using the rainbow flag in their social media profiles or advertisements as a cover for playing both sides.

A number of the corporations that activists say are rainbow washing have donated to anti-LGBTQ political candidates, according to an investigation by Popular Information.

To celebrate Pride authentically, companies need to look beyond Pride Month, said Rich Ferraro, the chief communications officer for GLAAD.

Corporations need to look at how they can donate to causes that are important to the LGBTQ community year-round. When it comes to advertising, they should make sure LGBTQ employees or advisers are playing a role, and also directing ad dollars to LGBTQ media, Ferraro said.

“Changing your rainbow on social media is a step,” Ferraro told Fortune. “But it’s a missed opportunity to tell a story of an LGBTQ person or LGBTQ issue, to educate your social following.”

Finally, not donating to anti-LGBTQ politicians or causes is most important, Ferraro added.

“Our community is now calling on corporations who have been allies in a historic sense, who have helped us achieve legal milestones like marriage equality, to now stand with us as we’re facing this onslaught of anti-LGBTQ legislation,” Ferraro told Fortune.

Popular Information found that since 2019, 25 major corporations have spent more than $10 million supporting members of Congress with a zero rating on the latest congressional scorecard produced by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the most prominent LGBTQ rights organization in the U.S.

Some of these companies, including Fortune 100 companies Walmart, CVS Health, Comcast, and AT&T, also donated to sponsors of anti-transgender legislation in Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas, and Florida.

Despite donations to anti-LGBTQ politicians, all 25 companies have a 100% rating on the HRC’s 2020 Corporate Equality Index, which measures “public commitment to the LGBTQ community,” according to Popular Information. The index does not take political donations into account.

When companies celebrate Pride by sporting rainbow flags and then support anti-LGBTQ politicians or laws, it hurts the morale of LGBTQ employees, said Kyle Elliott, a member of the Gay Coaches Alliance.

Companies need to take a look at their own organizations to see how they can support not only the LGBTQ community in general but also the LGBTQ employees who work for them.

“I think that one of the biggest takeaways this month for organizations is to stop spending as much effort externally if they’re not also spending the same amount of effort, internally—in their organization—to support their employees,” said Elliott.

Elliott said this internal support can vary from creating resource groups for LGBTQ employees to making sure HR policies are set up to protect them from possible discrimination.

Despite this year’s mistakes, some say having larger companies be more outspoken about their support for the LGBTQ community isn’t a bad thing.

Jean-Marie Navetta, director of learning and inclusion for PFLAG National, said Pride is not owned by any one person, entity, or company.

“For the folks who are not loved and affirmed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, going to a store or seeing an ad by a company that celebrates LGBTQ+ Pride can be an important source of validation,” Navetta said in a statement.

At the same time, some companies were heavily criticized this year for their missteps in celebrating Pride.

On the first day of Pride Month, after the Walt Disney Company released a collection of Pride-themed products, it was hit with a lawsuit from an executive accusing the company of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, according to Deadline.

The vice president of production finance for the production company ABC Signature, Joel Hopkins, who is gay, has allegedly “…experienced an ongoing pattern of discrimination, including, but not limited to, being passed over for promotions and not being paid at a level commensurate with other department heads,” according to the lawsuit. ABC Signature’s parent company is the Walt Disney Company.

The lawsuit alleges that Hopkins was reportedly put on a dead-end career track after his superiors found out about his sexual orientation. Hopkins is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for allegedly being passed over for promotion or advancement within the company, according to the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The Walt Disney Company did not respond to a request for comment.

Mercedes-Benz, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, YouTube, Cisco, BMW, Lenovo, Nestlé, and video game publisher Bethesda, among others, were called out on social media for selective support of Pride and the rainbow flag on Twitter.

Each of these companies changed either their profile pictures or header photos to celebrate Pride Month on their U.S. accounts while their Twitter accounts for some countries or regions outside the U.S. where LGBTQ people are less accepted or persecuted were unchanged.

As Pride Month 2021 comes to a close, the work of corporations to represent and support the LGBTQ community should not, said Ferraro. Brands are becoming more vocal in their support on social media and in advertisements every June, but they need to be showing out all year long, he said.

“Our community expects allyship that is true and authentic and very visible,” Ferraro said.

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