Last weekend, from Kehlani’s box braids to the Pride banners hanging from the Asian Art Museum, the city of San Francisco was covered in rainbows in celebration of its annual Pride festival. Since its inception in 1972, San Francisco’s Pride parade has become one of the United States’ largest gatherings of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies. Although this evolution is primarily due to the thoughtful planning of the San Francisco Pride committee and the dedicated participation of community members, it’s hard to deny the hand that large corporations have had in the growth of SF Pride — especially when considering the rainbow PayPal flags and Captain Morgan cups that littered Market Street in the aftermath of the celebration.
In an interview with members of The Daily Californian editorial board, Billy Curtis — the director of UC Berkeley’s Gender Equity Resource Center and a grand marshal of the San Francisco Pride Celebration and Parade — called corporate involvement in Pride events a “mixed bag.” He reflected on a time when Absolut Vodka was one of the few companies bold enough to back LGBTQ+ causes because, at the time, many businesses didn’t want to risk being associated with those who openly identified as LGBTQ+.
But fast forward almost four decades, and the list of Pride sponsors looks like it could be Forbes’ Fortune 500. In an editorial last summer, the Daily Cal’s editorial board wholly condemned corporate sponsorship of Pride. But the reality of the situation isn’t so clear-cut. When the public sees corporations openly supporting Pride, it undoubtedly brings a lot of visibility to the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, without the money that these companies provide, SF Pride might not have been able to gain the same traction it has.
All things considered, however, it is more imperative now than ever to remain critical of what these corporations are doing for marginalized communities and LGBTQ+ rights beyond throwing money at June celebrations.
Smirnoff vodka, Ménage à Trois Wines and Don Julio tequila were a few of the alcohol brands that sponsored this year’s SF Pride. When multiple studies have shown that alcoholism and substance abuse permeate LGBTQ+ communities at much higher rates than the general population, is it responsible for alcohol companies to push their products so heavily in these spaces? If these sponsors are going to be allowed to represent themselves at events such as Pride, it is just as important that they try to address the problems that their products cause.
Additionally, during the month of June, Uber — an associate sponsor of SF Pride — incorporated a rainbow trail on the app that follows riders to their destinations. Although this display of support for Pride Month was clever, it’s important not to let it distract from Uber’s treatment of its workers. By labeling drivers as “self-employed contractors,” the company avoided giving workers — some of whom drive up to 60 hours a week — benefits that most companies would be required to give full-time employees. It’s easy to code a rainbow into an app and write a check, but what’s really important is that these companies don’t end their commitment to social responsibility come July.
Whether it be with plastic pins or towering rainbow billboards, the fact of the matter is that these corporations are a presence at Pride. During the yearlong planning process for next year’s event, it’s crucial that corporate support goes beyond rainbow decor.