Pride month is a time of the year when companies show support for the LGBTQIA+ community. However, their practices do not always match these claims. In spite of public claims of support, companies’ lobbying and political activities expose the lack of true support for LGBTQIA+ rights.
In many countries, June is Pride month, marking the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a series of protests by New York City’s LGBTQIA+ community that many point to as the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. This period is a time to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as a time to reflect on past struggles and a reminder of the work that still needs to be done in order to achieve equality. Once wary of accepting and giving visibility to LGBTQIA+, many companies now use this month to highlight their support of this community.
From attaching a rainbow to their logo on social media to financially sponsoring Pride events, companies all around the world want to be involved. Unfortunately, this tacit involvement does not always match their actual company policies, employee treatment and political actions. This misalignment is part of a broader issue in corporate political responsibility – how can we trust companies if they don’t match their actions to their public stances?
Pinkwashing – or the practice of promoting LGBTQIA+ rights protections when the actions do not support, especially to distract from or legitimize violence against the same community – can become a major issue in corporate credibility, as it can appear as a mere attempt at performative allyship for the sake of profit. What’s more, it can actually harm the very groups these companies claim to support, including some of their own employees and consumer base.
Even if companies have socially responsible internal policies and codes of conduct, they can still practice pinkwashing through lobbying and other forms of political engagement. See, for example, a Popular Information investigation, that has shown that many companies that present the now-standard rainbow logo and have good classifications in the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) LGBTQIA+ rights ranking – the Corporate Equality Index – are directly contradicting such efforts by supporting the campaigns of politicians with stances against gay rights legislation.
25 major corporations have spent more than $10 million since 2019 supporting members of the Congress of the United States with a zero rating on the latest Congressional scorecard produced by HRC, one of the most prominent LGBTQIA+ rights organizations in the United States. These same corporations have also donated to legislators who have sponsored anti-trans legislation.
Despite this, all these corporations boast a 100% rating on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index. Along with workplace policies, the Corporate Equality Index attempts to measure corporations’ public commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community, which might mean participating in Pride events or donating to advocacy groups.
However, it is important to note that the methodology excludes political donations, enabling corporations to craft a pro-LGBTQIA+ image while supporting lobbying and political action that undermine the rights of the same individuals they claim to support. So, even if these companies are in theory “socially responsible”, they are not politically responsible and are, therefore, not truly supporting LGBTQIA+ issues and rights. In fact, they are contributing to active harm.
Deloitte has published a letter in support of the United Nations Standards of Conduct for Business, which aims to tackle discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people, and publicly promotes that it’s proud to be a signatory. Throughout the years, the company has been promoting Pride campaigns, focusing on making their LGBTQIA+ employees feel safe and engaging in active allyship (or supporting LGBTQIA+ causes while not being a member of the community). Yet, according to the same Popular Information investigation, since 2019, Deloitte has donated at least 662 000$ to 103 lawmakers who received zeros from the HRC for failing to uphold and maintain LGBTQIA+ rights. The company has also donated to legislators supporting anti-trans legislation.
Amazon, Google and Meta all have shown support for the LGBTQIA+ community and its rights. Amazon has earned a perfect score for LGBTQIA-supportive workplaces this year, has sponsored several Pride events and has refused to have headquarters in places with anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation. Meta has a support network with LGBTQIA+ advocacy organisations and celebrates Pride. Google shows support for the community with a particular webpage and by allowing to add LGBTQIA+ friendly and transgender safe spaces on Google My Business. But, as the Popular Information shows, their lobbying activities tell a different story. They have donated from 152 000$ to 483 000$ to federal lawmakers with a null HRC score for LGBTQIA+ support.
In fact, seven top Fortune 500-ranked companies that earned HRC 100% ratings donated money to candidates in the 2020 United States election cycle who are considered anti-LGBTQIA+ by GLAAD’s Accountability Project Many other companies have supported the Texas Republican Party, which embraces an exclusionary, extremist agenda and yet enjoys support from decidedly mainstream corporations — including those that claim to champion LGBTQIA+ rights.
This misalignment between what companies publicise and what companies lobby for is the most prevalent factor in impeding progress on major societal issues. Changing a logo or claiming to have a support group might not be enough for companies to truly show support for the LGBTQIA+ community. In order to regain trust, companies need to become not only environmentally and socially responsible but also become politically responsible by aligning their lobbying and political spending with the values they advocate.