Commentary: Stonewall and Corporate Citizenship

This week, the world is converging upon New York City to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. It is to celebrate World Pride, the annual celebration of the LGBTQ+ community as it continues its movement towards full societal inclusion. Yet, it is still a distinct culture that adds to the fabric of our nation and many countries worldwide.

Part of this movement has been the definition of diversity that includes people of sexual orientation and gender identity. It has been one of the stories I continue to cover since my days at Tillery Publications (now Illinois Eagle) in the early 2000s. This worked included the tracking of movement of consumer trends, corporate diversity campaigns in the workplace and in reaching out to the community, as a whole.

Never had I thought I would be a cog in this wheel. Certainly, I had a history of trying to be leader and organize opportunities for people to come together. Never had I thought to accomplish something on a higher level.

That opportunity came when I was approached by a local public relations person representing Toyota Motor North America. We met at the Twin Cities Auto Show and discussed an event coming to Minneapolis the next month to engage with the community for Toyota and Lexus to become a corporate citizen here.

I was asked as to which organizations and people to invite to the event. My Rolodex and iPhone does not have a lot of names and e-mails, but I know a few that could benefit from this event.

In April, that event happened. Sure enough, the few people I suggested showed up. What was interesting was the fact they thanked me for inviting them. Then, they engaged in conversations with the folks from Lexus and TMNA.

Soon after, action took place. Action, as in Toyota's sponsorship at a recent Pride Kick-Off celebration for the Gay For Good chapter in the Twin Cities. I am blessed to be a friend to the chapter's founder, Beth Mejia. I am glad she and Toyota, along with the local PR person, connected on achieving this sponsorship.

Here in the Twin Cities, we have other automotive entities putting their name, logo, and products in and around Pride. Nissan sponsored this year's Twin Cities Pride, while White Bear Mitsubishi was at the festival and participating in the parade. In the past, Chrysler and Chevrolet had activations at Twin Cities Pride, along with participation by other local dealerships.

We have seen an explosion of rainbows all over the country from various other manufacturers. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford, and General Motors participated in this year's Motor City Pride in Detroit. Hyundai, American Honda, BMW, Nissan North America, and Mercedes-Benz also participated in various Pride events nationwide, as well as added the six-row Rainbow Flag to their social media channels. I am sure other manufacturers did their part to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community, as well as assuring their customers that diversity is the key to success in these companies.

I know that there are some in the LGBTQ+ community who believe that corporate sponsorship has ruined the core of what Pride is all about. There has been some talk of companies that fly the Rainbow Flag on their logo and donate millions of dollars to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians and entities. I agree that hypocrisy is something that should be called out when necessary.

I also know there are some who rather not have certain entities at Pride because of the history of violence and discrimination against them. Let me say that we should agree to disagree and respect each other's opinions regardless of what they are. But, please do not hate the messenger or the supporter who thinks other than you – especially when they are a friend of yours!

Corporate citizenship has been my beat since 2001. It took a larger stage ten years later when I was writing for the Twin Cities LGBTQ+ magazine, Lavender, in almost every issue. My presence on GayWheels.com is in part due to this coverage over the past eight years.

From my experiences around corporate citizenship with several manufacturers and suppliers, I can only explain, present, and defend their positive efforts towards LGBTQ+ inclusion. Yes, they are selling something – and not just automobiles. They are selling a positive workplace atmosphere for all. They are selling community involvement. They are selling engagement with the LGBTQ+ community.

But, is it selling? We can argue this for eons. I'll let you judge that for yourself.

While we recognize that the idea of celebration began as a protest the year after the Stonewall Riots, we often have to backtrack to see where we came from to where we are now. For a community to become part of society, they have to raise their collective hands to use their economic power to help push the agenda of equality.

As the push for liberation and equality was developing through the 1970s, an economic component was added alongside the political and social elements that drove were the backbone of this movement. Back in 1977, there was a boycott against the Coors Brewing Company because of the political leanings of its management. It was a boycott that also had a collaborator – the unions. Coors had been anti-organized labor on top of being a rather conservatively run company. This triggered a boycott of their beer to not be served at bars and sold at stores that serve the LGBTQ+ community, This boycott lasted into the 1980s.

The Coors Boycott was a prime example of how the LGBTQ+ community was able to use its economic power to send a message that if you want to sell anything to us, you have to fully recognize us as a consumer base. Four decades later, the tide has turned with many entities knocking on our door for our dollars.

Today, the LGBTQ+ community has the economic clout to become activists with their wallets in making consumer decisions based on who supports them or not. This is why we struggle with the presence of automotive manufacturers, banks, healthcare firms and other corporate entities at Pride celebrations.

Yet, we also are employees at these companies. We are vendors to these companies. We are media people who cover these companies. This is why I support these companies – especially in the automotive industry. These LGBTQ+ employees, vendors, and media people may be your neighbors and/or your friends. Something to think about…

Pride is a celebration, after all. If you celebrate, Happy Pride to you. If you're any of the letters represented in the community, thank you for reading this openly gay automotive journalist/blogger/photographer. If you're an ally, you're awesome. If you're a hater, you got plenty of choices to read another outlet or view a video channel.

Besides, that guy in rural Oklahoma with the rainbow across the back of his 1991 Chevrolet Silverado made this month well worth the work I do on here and elsewhere. And, believe it or not, he even made it to last weekend's Oklahoma City Pride!

Again, Happy Pride, folks!

Photo by Randy Stern

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