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Pride becomes a minefield for big companies, but many continue their support

Brands realise the need to support the LGBTQAI community but often face a backlash from those who do not support equal rights

Brands are making the effort to support Pride Month but often face backlash from people who do not believe in equal rights.
Brands are making the effort to support Pride Month but often face backlash from people who do not believe in equal rights. (File photo/Unsplash)

Many big companies, including Target and Bud Light in the U.S., are still backing Pride events in June despite the minefield that the monthlong celebration has become for some of them. The two companies recently came under fire for their efforts to appeal to the LGBTQ community with products and merchandise, only to come under more fire when they tried to backpedal. The negative response has been from people who do not support equal rights for the LGBTQAI community.

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Even as they battle the negative publicity, Target and Bud Light haven’t pulled away from this year’s Pride celebrations. Target is a platinum sponsor of NYC Pride, which requires a $175,000 donation. And Bud Light’s parent Anheuser-Busch is a sponsor of Pride celebrations in Chicago, San Francisco, Charlotte and elsewhere. Many other big companies are sticking to their sponsorships, including PepsiCo, Starbucks, General Motors and Jeep parent Stellantis, all of which said they have been supporting Pride events for decades and aren’t hesitating to back them again this year.

InterPride, which represents more than 375 Pride organizations globally, said 40% have reported their sponsorship dollars are up 20% or more this year. The buying power of the LGBTQ community is likely too big for companies to ignore. LGBT Capital, a U.K.-based investment company, estimates the U.S. has more than 17 million LGBTQ people with more than $1 trillion in spending power. 

“For every one customer knocking the display over, there are 10 who love it, and they are going to vote with their feet,” said Allen Adamson, co-founder and managing partner of marketing firm Metaforce.

Anheuser-Busch didn’t respond to questions about its Pride sponsorships. Target said its focus is “moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA community.”

Despite the corporate support, there are clouds hovering over the rainbow. A majority of negative social media posts about Pride this year are attacking companies for being “woke”, says RILA Global Consulting, which tracks more than 100 million websites and social media pages per day. That’s an abrupt change from last year, when a majority of negative social media posts were focused on brands being “inauthentic” and not truly supporting the LGBTQ population.

The backlash comes amid a furious and fast-spreading debate over the rights of transgender people. At least 17 states in the US have enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming care for minors, most since the start of this year.

That has left many companies feeling jittery. “I had a sponsor last night say their CEO is skittish about getting political,” said Fernando Lopez, executive director of San Diego Pride. “The fact that they’re even having that conversation is disheartening at best.”

Target has long marketed to the LGBTQ community. But it recently found itself at the centre of the bullseye when angry customers tipped over Pride displays and threatened staff in some stores. Kohl’s, Lego and Southwest Airlines also have taken heat for their LGBTQ-friendly marketing in recent days.

Lopez, at San Diego Pride, worries that some companies will back out of Pride celebrations because of concerns that boycotters will target them. “Companies may not be anti-LGBTQ, but they don't want to be putting their employees in a potentially dangerous space," Lopez said.

Suzanne Ford, the executive director of San Francisco Pride, said she understands that companies are facing difficult decisions but they also know that the LGBTQ community is watching very closely this year. Ford said Anheuser-Busch has been a longtime patron and increased its donation to San Francisco Pride this year. The group relies on its sponsors to keep its two-day, $3 million festival free, Ford said, and its costs for labour and security are skyrocketing. “In the end, human rights will win out.”

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