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Every year during Pride Month, brands come out in support of gay rights—or, a version of gay rights that looks good on social media. But the genuineness of these displays is often a little… questionable. Somehow, slapping a filter on your Twitter avatar and making all the visibly queer and trans people at your company do a video where they say their pronouns does not an ally make. A lot of these brands care demonstrably more about paying topical lip service to “the community” in a bid for queer and trans people’s business than they do about supporting actual LGBTQ people.
There’s a stark difference between material support and virtue signaling—especially the kind that exists to paper over previous missteps. To be clear, there are absolutely ways brands and businesses can support queer and trans people during Pride Month and beyond: hiring queer and trans people; providing those employees with inclusive benefits packages that cover gender affirmation procedures and extend those benefits to their partners; creating workplace cultures with LGBTQ spaces and mentorship opportunities; and donating money to progressive politicians and LGBTQ organizations that exist to help queer and trans people live and thrive. Here are a few examples of entities whose actions have actively harmed the LGBTQ community, even as their public statements claim solidarity.
While Pfizer was able to fill a tightly edited Twitter video with employees who are part of the LGBTQ community recounting their positive experiences working for the pharmaceutical giant, a 2019 report from Judd Legum’s newsletter Popular Information found the company donated nearly $1 million to 52 different anti-gay politicians in 2018.
Citigroup put out a Pride tweet reminding customers that they can update their names on “eligible Citi-branded credit cards” in order to avoid being forced to use a deadname. But this multinational investment bank can’t really claim solidarity with the LGBTQ community when it also barreled ahead in sponsoring an event honoring Brazil’s notoriously anti-gay president Jair Bolsonaro in 2019.
Though Disney has famously never featured a prominent openly gay character in its 59 films spanning eight decades, they still released a graphic featuring some classic (canonically straight) characters marching against a rainbow flag.
The FBI has actually dropped a “Happy Pride!” graphic for the past few years, which is definitely an interesting choice, from the same agency hounded and survielled gay activists in the ’50s and ’60s and furthered the Cold War-era persecution of gay and lesbian federal employees in what came to be known as the Lavender Scare—none of which the agency has ever apologized for.
After Cigna wished its Twitter followers a happy #PrideMonth, civil rights lawyer Alejandra Caraballo highlighted negative changes in their policies that explicitly impact trans people.
The insurance giant changed the language in its coverage of what it calls “gender reassignment procedures.” According to screenshots posted by Caraballo, Cigna previously described procedures like facial fillers and forehead reduction in its 2020 documentation as ones that “may be medically necessary”; in its 2021 documentation, it now describes those procedures as ones that “are considered not medically necessarily” under its standard benefit plan, which means facial feminization and masculinization will be harder and more expensive for trans people to obtain (though individual plans “may” still cover them).
Uber changed its header image to a rainbow road, and also announced that it will be implementing, among other things, an “in-app discrimination reporting tool.” Still, it’s hard to imagine this tool being effective at combatting anti-LGBTQ discrimination in terms of who gets picked up by Ubers in the first place: a 2019 study found that simply signaling support for the LGBTQ community in the Uber app by using a rainbow filter on one’s profile could double the chances of a ride getting canceled.
Spotify got a lot of hot, young, popular, queer and trans artists to make a Pride Month video for their Twitter. Spotify also continues to exclusively host comedian Joe Rogan’s extremely popular podcast, for which it reportedly paid over $100 million, against the wishes of staffers who take offense to his history of platforming transphobes and making transphobic comments.
Google set up an animation triggered when users look up terms like “gay,” “lesbian,” or “genderqueer.” The tech giant also reportedly fired trans women and a queer man for labor organizing in 2019, and its video-sharing social media platform YouTube was sued the same year for suppressing video content by LGBTQ creators while allowing YouTubers espousing anti-LGBTQ beliefs to thrive there.
The NFL’s example of an “influential LGBTQ+ voice in the NFL” is a man who did not publicly come out as gay until three years after he retired as a player… in 1975. That’s a feat for David Kopay on a personal level, but not something an organization that has never had an openly gay or bisexual player should get to cash in on.Follow Katie Way on Twitter.