Every year on June 1, major corporations cloak their social media icons and homepages in rainbow colors in recognition of Pride Month, purportedly to show support for their queer employees and consumers.
But many of those companies are doing harm to that same community by actively supporting lawmakers that advance anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, according to a new report.
Last week, the progressive think tank and advocacy group Data for Progress published its Corporate Accountability Project, which provides research on Fortune 500 companies’ political donations to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians. The report documents spending from 2019 through March 2022—the most recent month for which data is available.
“These companies don’t wait a second to profit off of and capitalize on Pride branding,” Marcela Mulholland, Data for Progress’s political director, told Fortune. “But when it actually comes to supporting those values with their political contributions, a lot of them are falling short.”
Over the nearly three-year period it looked at, those companies donated almost $3 million to lawmakers whose agendas include legislation ranging from bills that ban the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools to those restricting trans youths from playing on sports teams. Even companies that sponsor Pride events are implicated, including Toyota, AT&T, Comcast, and State Farm.
“Most consumers don’t sift through hundreds of pages of campaign finance documents,” said Mulholland. “Our objective was to equip the consumers and employees of these companies with the knowledge of where they actually stand when it comes to values and supporting the LGBTQ community.”
Data for Progress also found through public polling in early May that a majority of likely voters—54%—disapprove of corporations that donate to politicians who sponsor anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Once those voters were made aware of specific companies’ contributions, the organization found that those companies’ approval ratings decreased.
The report suggests that associations with anti-LGBTQ+ politicians can ultimately be bad for corporate brands, something that’s also the case outside of Pride Month. Earlier this year, Disney consumers and employees expressed disappointment in the company for its response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill as it was going through the state’s legislature. Opponents to the bill were quick to note that the company had donated to conservative politicians who had helped advance the bill.
The debacle tested the fragile line that companies try to toe between business interests and consumer values. In response to criticism, Disney publicly came out against the bill, which prompted swift backlash from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. In a move viewed as punitive, DeSantis moved to revoke special land use privileges that Disney had enjoyed in the state for half a century.
Mulholland sees the debacle in Florida as evidence of what consumers and employees can do once they’re aware of companies’ political interests. “I think the situation with Disney shows the power that employees can have when they realize that something unjust is happening and they demand that their companies do better,” she said.
Other states around the country have followed Florida’s path in enacting legislation that limits discussion around LGBTQ+ issues in school settings. In a political ecosystem marked by a growing wave of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment, what does it mean for a company to actively support its queer employees and consumers?
“Truly the baseline thing is if you are profiting off of Pride, don’t also support legislative leaders that are making the lives of queer people worse in this country,” said Mulholland. “That feels like the most basic level of allyship.”
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