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Why corporate Pride sponsorship is both problematic and necessary

By Josie Simon, August 20 2023—

Corporate sponsorship of Pride celebrations has become a common sight in recent years. From floats in parades to branded merchandise, companies have increasingly sought to associate themselves with the queer community during Pride Month. However, this sponsorship has also raised concerns and sparked debates within the community. Many argue that corporations are simply trying to use Pride as a marketing ploy, while others contend that corporate involvement is necessary for the expansion and visibility of LGBTQ+ causes. This paradoxical relationship between corporations and Pride highlights the tension between genuine activism and opportunistic marketing.

The queer community has long faced discrimination from businesses and corporations. Before 1996, it was not uncommon for companies to deny employment to or terminate employees who identified as LGBTQ+. Unsurprisingly, some members of the queer community hesitate to accept corporate support since many brands that sponsor Pride have histories of discriminating against the community. This historical context adds to the uncomfortable irony of corporate sponsorship of Pride events. 

Simply placing a logo on a float or handing out branded merchandise does little to promote queer liberation. It is merely a superficial and self-serving attempt at capitalizing on Pride’s commercial appeal. Chick-fil-A’s exploitation of Pride events to further its marketing scheme is a clear example. Despite having previously donated to organizations opposing same-sex marriage and supporting conversion therapies, the company offered food at a Pride event in 2015. This kind of sponsorship does not advance the interests of the queer community but rather improves the company’s image and profits. 

Bud Light’s recent sponsorship of transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney also showcases the harm that poor corporate sponsorships can cause. The company failed to support Mulvaney when she needed it most, leaving her to face threats and backlash alone after being sponsored by Bud Light on TikTok. This performative support not only failed to benefit the LGBTQ+ community but also harmed Mulvaney. 

Corporate commodification also dilutes the radical political origins of Pride, replacing intersectional and anti-capitalist foundations of queer struggle with profit-seeking corporations. By treating queer identity as a commodity for marketing, corporations support “pinkwashing,” neglecting real social justice concerns such as human rights abuses and environmental issues. 

At the same time, corporate Pride sponsorships can aid LGBTQ+ organizations and promote inclusivity. This is particularly important in Alberta, where LGBTQ+ rights are threatened. Capital One is an example of a steadfast supporter of the queer community. Capital One offers comprehensive queer-focused benefits to its employees, such as fertility treatment coverage, adoption and surrogacy cost coverage, domestic partner benefits, and health coverage for gender reassignment. Since 1997, Capital One has been a stalwart ally for the queer community, pioneering same-sex marriage benefits before it became standard in the corporate world. 

So where does that leave us? Queer history is marred with discrimination and ostracism by businesses and corporations, making accepting their support during Pride challenging. Pinkwashing and commodification dilute the radical political origins of queer struggle and promote capitalism over intersectionality. At the same time, corporate involvement signals progress and aids LGBTQ+ organizations. Still, corporations must support the community meaningfully and substantively by engaging with LGBTQ+ organizations and working towards eliminating systemic inequalities. Only then can corporate sponsorship of Pride be seen as a genuine expression of support for the queer community rather than a mere marketing ploy. 

Pride Month may be over, but our fight for equality never stops. Let’s continue to advocate, learn and take action throughout the year. 

This article is a part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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