Your (Pride) flag decal won’t get you into heaven.

Corporations flying the Pride Flag without taking meaningful action is nothing more than an empty gesture.

Total Engagement Consulting’s second LGBTQ Pride Month blog has been provided by my new associate Deanna Jones.  Link to our first Pride Month blog, “LGBTQ+ Pride Month Blog 2023 – Fighting the Increasing Hate.”

Some of you recognize the title of this song (with a little editing) as a John Prine masterpiece. Link to John Prine’s song on Youtube. We lost John a few years ago due to covid but I am reminded of this sentiment recently with the amount of rainbow washing that is really starting to kick into gear for Pride Month. According to the Urban dictionary, rainbow washing is when a business uses the rainbow Pride colors on advertising, apparel, accessories, and yes, flag decals to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ equality. Mostly it is performative in nature and does nothing to provide tangible results for the community.

We see a lot of this rainbow washing today. While Trans-rights have been trampled throughout our country, major corporations have been mostly silent. In 2016 our state (NC) faced a large corporate backlash and lost billions after passing a so-called “bathroom bill” (HB2) that banned transgender people from using bathrooms aligning with their gender identity. In 2023 we have seen a large influx of anti-trans bills that attempt to eliminate medical care for young people and in some cases, adult medical care. Bathroom bans are getting passed, parental rights are being taken away and this time, nearly every corporation has been very quiet.

Corporations, with their immense influence and resources, have the power to make a substantial impact on social and political issues. Why are corporations remaining silent on anti-trans bills? One reason is their perception that they will face retaliation for speaking out. Governor DeSantis went after Disney when the company came out against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida (see my earlier blog.) The Governor is proud of this fact stating directly to the Disney Corporation, “It’s not going to work out well for you” and “I’m going to punch back”. This puerile threat has been carried out swiftly by the Governor. He has tried to tax them more, remove their autonomy and even suggested building a prison next to the park.

This map shows in darker red colors states now proposing or passing anti-Trans legislation.

In this current hate filled environment created by the right-wing agenda in conservative governments, corporations are facing backlash from a small minority of anti LGBTQ customers. These allegedly aggrieved customers seek to puff themselves up and claim they represent the majority with their outsized reactions which they most certainly do not. Witness some of the inflammatory videos posted by anti-LGBTQ forces on the right.

The corporations that tried to be inclusive such Anheuser-Busch and Target have faced this backlash and appear to immediately be cowed and afraid of these repercussions from the select few consumers who react violently. This is a huge miscalculation for them. Their cowed responses have done nothing but alienate larger groups of consumers, especially younger and more diverse populations. According to a 2021 Gallup poll, 20% of people in Generation Z identify as gay, transgender, or bisexual. This is in comparison to 3% of the Baby Boomers.

A report released last December from GLAAD and the Edelman Trust Institute found that if a brand publicly supports and demonstrates a commitment to expand and protect LGBTQ rights, Americans are twice as likely to buy and use the brand. Millennials and Generation Z are 5.5 more likely to want to work at a company that supports and demonstrates a commitment to protecting LGBTQ+ rights. I believe we are clearly at the beginning of a monumental shift in attitudes and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ population. Over 20% of Generation Z identifies with the community. Where will your company be when these employees and consumers have the largest share of purchasing dollars? Does your company now wave a Pride Flag while simultaneously acquiescing to the anti LGBTQ mob? I certainly hope not.

The Broad Impact of State Anti-LGBTQ Legislation

This year in my state of North Carolina and several other states across the country, state legislatures are introducing and passing laws that target LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) people. These laws have significant business, community and personal impact, and because of intersectionality, ramifications can be felt far beyond the LGBTQ community.

The vast majority of these laws (link to a list of all these laws) target the transgender community, including prohibiting parents from seeking medical care of their trans children, legislating how doctors can treat trans patients, prohibiting trans teens from participating in sports, and even outlawing drag queens!

Impact on People. Transgender and queer people are now being told by their political leaders that there is something wrong, bad or sick about them. Politicians are declaring that these people are not equal Americans, but instead evil people who are a scourge on society and need to be rooted out. Through their actions, these politicians are telling us transgender people and drag queens harm more people than AK45 assault rifles! This kind of horrible messaging can lead to depression, mental illness and suicide, as well as other citizens targeting them for bullying or even assault and murder.

Impact on the LGBTQ community.  When an entire community is targeted for hateful action by political leaders, it damages the community. It can lead to destructive behavior and mental illness instead of empowering a community to contribute their best to society. It sets up neighbors against each other, causing division and strife in the community.

Economic / business impact. People need to remember the $400 million in lost revenue when North Carolina enacted our anti-transgender anti-gay HB2“ bathroom bill” in 2016. The NBA moved their all-star game out of state and several major companies cancelled or curtailed their financial investments in NC. Over the past few months, I have been told by some company managers and even leaders in one branch of our US military that they are not able to recruit employees or get people to move to states that have these hateful laws out of fear for themselves or their families.

What should we do? Individuals need to show empathy and support for their LGBTQ+ friends and family members impacted by these laws. People need to stop voting for any politician who votes for harmful hateful legislation. And companies and organization need to assure they do not give a single penny to these politicians. Companies absolutely cannot claim to be pro-diversity or LGBTQ supportive and then support such political leaders. It is totally duplicitous. (Read my blog from last April “Companies cannot claim to be LGBTQ+ supportive while contributing to anti-LGBTQ+ legislators”)

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Note: On July 25, I am moderating a panel discussion session titled “The Impact of State LGBTQ Legislation – Policy (Panel)” at the 2023 Raleigh Chamber of Commerce DEI Conference.