“It’s time for corporations to walk their talk,” Maeve Coyle, spokesperson for the “Keep Your Pride” campaign run by global charity Corporate Accountability Action, told the Voice.
Stonewall Inn co-owners Stacy Lentz and Kurt Kelly couldn’t agree more.
The Stonewall Inn coordinated with “Keep Your Pride” to ban Anheuser-Busch products from the bar during NYC Pride weekend, June 25 to 27. Stonewall is regarded worldwide as the birthplace of the U.S. LGBTQ rights movement.
Yesterday, to bring awareness to what observers are calling the “corporatization of Pride,” Lentz and Kelly and about 50 participants held a beverage “pour out” in front of the storied establishment. Beverages were poured out in the exact location where on June 28, 1969, gay, lesbian, transgender, and other bar patrons resisted NYC police in what is now referred to alternately as a riot, an uprising, and a rebellion.
Since 2015, Anheuser-Busch, according to “Keep Your Pride,” has made 48 donations totaling $35,350 to 29 anti-LGBTQ legislators behind recent bills attacking trans youth.
Lentz and Kelly are “walking their talk.” The suite of beverages banned on Pride weekend, the bar’s biggest weekend, will have an economic effect on their bottom line. In turn, how can Anheuser-Busch and other Pride sponsor corporations and businesses walk their talk?
“It’s important that we do this awareness event during Pride week and really call out corporations and people out there that aren’t showing their true colors,” Lentz told the Voice. “We’re asking corporations who traditionally sponsor Pride events around the country to change their criteria for making political donations,” Kelly added.
A growing part of the queer narrative is how corporations want access to queer markets while simultaneously contributing to elected officials who sponsor anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ legislation. In marketing terms, queer markets are presented as loyal to businesses supportive of their communities. The problem, say activists and advocates like Lentz and Kelly and campaigns such as “Keep Your Pride,” is that many of those same businesses are not loyal in return when they contribute to anti-queer elected officials.
Instead of contributing to politicians who thwart progress toward full LGBTQ civil rights, “We’d like to see those same corporations use their lobbying muscle to support the Equality Act,” Kelly says. The act was passed by the House on February 25 but now languishes in the Senate, where it is not expected to pass.
In defense of their donations, Anheuser-Busch told the Associated Press, “We support candidates for public office whose policy positions and objectives support investments in our communities, job creation, and industry growth.” The statement also read, “Together, with our brands, we have a clear role to play in bringing real change and creating an inclusive and equitable world where we cherish and celebrate one another.”
Coyle’s assessment of the situation is different than what is described in Anheuser-Busch’s formal statement. “This isn’t difficult. This is a really low bar. We’re calling on corporations to stop donating to lawmakers who are trying to legalize discrimination,” Coyle explains. In 2020, according to the Human Rights Campaign, there were a total of 79 anti-trans bills introduced across the country. In just the first half of this year there have been more than 100, according to PBS News Hour Weekend.
There are publicly available resources for corporations to research before writing PAC checks. “We need to change the rules. It’s a pretty easy thing for folks to check on elected officials’ positions and votes on queer issues,” Coyle says. She suggests checking Freedom for All Americans as a credible source for PAC contributions regarding LGBTQ issues; another source is Popular Information.
Complicating the landscape is the dissonance created by corporations that receive high marks on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Index while simultaneously donating to elected officials whose bills and votes are at odds with the goal of comprehensive civil rights for the entire LGBTQ community.
But there’s no gray area when it comes to equality, Coyle posits. “There are not two sides to this issue. When companies donate to an elected official who supports discrimination it really shows you where their priorities lie. It’s not with supporting the LGBTQ community; it’s with their own bottom line,” she underscores.
After the Stonewall “pour out” event, the bottom line for the LGBTQ community may involve deciding if they’ll go back to buying Anheuser-Busch beverages, or goods and services from other corporations making donations to anti-queer politicians.
No stranger to controversy, Ann Northrop, principal organizer with Reclaim Pride, stresses the importance of people making the connections between all of the corporate-sponsored Pride logos and rainbows and to whom those same businesses make political contributions.
“With the right information people can ask for corporate accountability,” Northrop told the Voice. Right now, Northrop says, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars going into campaigns to elect Republican politicians.
“I understand that corporations have a pet agenda of particular legislation about taxes or where they locate factories or outlets. Those are real concerns for them. And they want elected officials to do their bidding,” she says. “But their contributions, like Anheuser-Busch and so many others, are not good for us. And we’re allowed to say, don’t expect us to support your business when the elected officials you contribute to regularly work against our achieving full civil rights.” She notes that research has revealed more than two dozen rainbow-flag-waving corporations that have donated millions to anti-gay pols in the last two years.
Does this year’s Pride season — with its focus on the relationships between queer venues and corporations and who does what to whom with rainbows and PAC dollars — signal a new movement? “I believe it’s possible, hoping it’s possible,” Northrop concludes.
Yesterday’s street theater at Stonewall channeled not only 1969 but also much more recent history. In 2018, Reclaim Pride, a then-new organization, got this particular social justice ball rolling when their first salvo involved delivering “a list of demands to city officials, including Mayor de Blasio, New York Police Department Commissioner James O’ Neill, and Heritage of Pride regarding the 2018 New York City Pride March.” Heritage of Pride was included because it is the organizer of the annual NYC Pride March.
Essentially, Reclaim Pride’s demands have not changed much from their original statement, which focused on “working towards our vision of an NYC Pride that reflects our community’s heritage of activism as opposed to the Pride March’s current state of commercial saturation.”
Will efforts by Stonewall Inn owners, the “Keep Your Pride” campaign, and the Reclaim Pride Coalition create change?
“Moving forward, Pride means that we are reclaiming our spaces,” Reclaim Pride’s Jason Rosenberg told the Voice. “Elected officials need to stop voting against our interests. Our community needs to do this. Only we can keep ourselves safe in order to survive. We liberate ourselves and each other,” he says.
Also involved with Reclaim Pride is ACT UP’s Brandon Cuicchi, who says, “At a minimum, we need to eliminate the corporatization of Pride. We need to find new ways to make ourselves attractive as a market.”
Moving forward, the burning question for the queer community during 2021 Pride season appears to be deciding if it’s a movement or a market, or both. How does the community honor what took place in 1969 at The Stonewall Inn and what took place on the sidewalk outside its front door yesterday? ❖