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A downtick in corporate Pride

Despite a seeming mainstream narrative of LGBTQ+ pride and acceptance being at an all time high, 2023 has seen corporate Pride celebration sponsorships being pulled at a rate unmatched in recent memory. Amidst an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and the ever-present and ever-growing political polarization that courses through the veins of this country, longtime Pride celebration sponsors have chosen not to test the waters further by placing themselves firmly on one side or the other. Unfortunately for those whose lives and freedoms are dependent upon demonstrations of their support, that means funding is pulled and organizers are forced to look elsewhere- often for smaller checks. And a larger cut of those checks is reserved for the safety of participants- security.

While the downtick in corporate sponsorship hasn’t quite presented a dire situation for organizers yet, it’s setting a dangerous trend. Former corporate Pride backers have faced little to no major backlash for pulling their support, signaling to on-the-fence companies they can do the same with impunity going forward. 

One such corporate retreat from a pride celebration is from Wells Fargo, a longtime sponsor of events in cities around the United States. The bank pulled out of Central Alabama Pride events in Birmingham this year, presumably in line with the general attitude toward LGBTQ+ people in state houses over the last year. 29 bills deemed discriminatory by pro-LGBTQ+ groups were passed into law in the state in 2022, setting a general tone of apprehension toward LGBTQ+ culture and identity in the process. 

It is important to note that Wells Fargo is by no means an anti-LGBTQ+ company; they are still sponsoring Pride events even in the South, it’s merely the specificity of the celebration’s location in Alabama amidst such visceral media coverage of the state’s legislation pertaining to LGBTQ+ people that raised eyebrows.

On that note, much of 2022 media coverage was defined by anti-LGBTQ+ efforts in states across the south, including Alabama, much to the ignorance of what could be considered positive legal changes for trans people, including the ban of health insurance exclusion on the basis of sexual or gender identity. So it goes. 

In the absence of such large corporate donors to Pride events, organizers have had to turn to smaller scale, local operations and businesses for sponsorships. 

Take, for example, Mid-South Pride in Memphis, Tennessee. Large donors annually relied on for staging the celebration, Kroger and Terminix, decided against sponsoring the event as they had in recent years, compelling organizers to turn to regional companies, including local dentists and mortgage brokers, to fill the gap left by such large donors’ absence. 

Pride celebration in Memphis, Tennessee. Source: Commercial Appeal

Speculation has it that corporations that unflinchingly sponsored Mid-South Pride events in years prior are hesitant to do the same now due to changing -or rather, reverting- attitudes toward LGBTQ+ people in Tennessee. Fortunately, small, community-based organizations and businesses have picked up corporate slack and have sponsored this year’s Mid-South Pride events.

I suppose you could say this affirms the long standing conception among LGBTQ+ folks that you only have your community to support you, and in this case that expands beyond a purely LGBTQ+ community and into your local community. 

Many would extrapolate on this conclusion and assert that this is irrefutable evidence of the widely noted practice of Pride profiteering, that is, making money off of LGBTQ+ Pride Month by shelling out itty bitty donations for parades and adding a rainbow to your logo. To sum the effect of Pride profiteering up, corporations are supposedly “all in” on Pride and equality measures while it’s popular, but when there’s any large-scale adversity to LGBTQ+ equality the corporations pull out and don’t mention Pride again until next June.

This is almost exactly what is happening with Wells Fargo in relation to Central Alabama Pride and Kroger and Terminix in relation to Mid-South Pride. There have been widely covered attempts to undermine the livelihoods of LGBTQ+ people across the South, and this has led to hesitancy among corporations to participate in Pride events. It’s conditional and transactional. 

While this is more commonly seen in politically red regions of the country, such as the South, it exists in more liberal regions, too. The Los Angeles Dodgers recently had their own Pride scandal; Dodger Stadium’s 10th annual Pride Night was met with controversy after drag nun group the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence announced their intended attendance. Members are drag queens who dress up in nun attire. Naturally, more religiously-tuned people were offended, and called for a boycott of the night and Dodgers games as a whole. In fear of low attendance, the Dodgers canceled the event, then reversed the decision following pro-LGBTQ+ backlash. Undoubtedly a tough situation for the Dodgers PR team as it was, it did emphasize the profit-tied motives of corporate Pride events evident of Pride profiteering.

Source: The New York Post

Actions like these have sown deep seeds of skepticism toward ‘corporate Pride’ events for certain members of the LGBTQ+ community, who in protest have created their own celebrations -marches, more correctly- headed by organizations such as the Reclaim Pride Foundation. “The complex proliferation of Parades as the model for Pride Celebrations internationally is deeply disturbing to many people in the LGBTQIA2S+ communities,” their About page reads. “Overflowing with corporate floats and at the service of corporate money, the Pride Parade had become a new symbol of gay for pay. The imposition of barricades along the parade route separated the participants from its audience, turning the Pride March into an entertainment venue instead of a true expression of our cultural legacy.” 


There’s much to be said for this view, in the interest of transparency. More police are detailed to Pride events in New York City every year, and more companies purchase parade floats in tandem. If you were to ask me, the views expressed by the Reclaim Pride Foundation and similarly aligned groups contribute to the sense of polarization that plagues progress for LGBTQ+ people. I suppose it’s a matter of perspective.

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