‘Tis the season, folks, wherein we in the LGBTQ community celebrate (and, in theory, remember) our history. By commemorating the Stonewall riots of 1969, we revel in colors with parades, and continue to celebrate wins that tend to come in June (Lawrence v. Texas, Windsor v. United States, Obergefell v. Hodges). As our country has grown more accepting of the LGBTQ community, these celebrations are becoming more and more decorated by corporate logos wrapped in rainbow flags.
Recently, someone posted on the Facebook dot com a query: why are so many in the LGBTQ community so opposed to these corporate displays? As corporations not only embrace the LGBTQ community for money, but also through internal policies designed to root out discrimination and celebrate the diversity of workers, should we not be embracing back?
To me, the question rests on whether you believe government serves a purpose, and whether you believe part of that purpose includes efforts to undermine bigotry through anti-discrimination laws, hate crime legislation, and equitable investment for communities that are disproportionately and negatively impacted by the affordability crisis, homelessness, and access to healthcare. And, to the extent you believe that there is a place for government to ensure equity in areas where it has failed the LGBTQ community, do you believe it should pay for it.
Thankfully, Popular Information has already done the work for some large corporations that purport to care about LGBTQ rights, while at the same time pumping millions of dollars into the campaign coffers of politicians who would put my trans kid into a concentration camp. Of course, the corporations have given their defense, essentially telling Forbes that they give to all sides. But here’s the thing: if a corporation is putting its bottom line ahead of civil rights, do they really deserve a cookie? Is it good more corporations are adopting anti-discrimination policies? Yes. But if at the same time they are funding politicians that would subjugate LGBTQ persons who don’t work for these corporations, then how much credit do they really deserve?
The thing is this: corporations could readily change the GOP’s stance on civil rights by starving them of money. But they won’t. And they won’t because they put profits before civil rights. Always have, always will. So when people have concerns about Comcast marching in Pride Parades while at the same time funding the politicians who seek to deny access to adoption, healthcare, and fair housing, it resonates with me. The actions of Verizon are causing trauma to LGBTQ folks across the country, all so they can save a buck in taxes, which makes their rainbow flag-waving seem hollow.
But what does it all mean locally?
Estimates are between 40 and 60% of unaccompanied homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. LGBTQ individuals are overrepresented among the adult homeless population. LGBTQ adults are more likely to be in lower-paying jobs, at risk of violence, and at risk of housing instability.
Responding to the homelessness crisis and working to advance worker protections is an LGBTQ issue. Notwithstanding a budget proposal in 2018 that cut money to support services supporting trans adults, and the need for Council to step in on that issue, and to add funding for health services at NOVA High School (60-80% LGBTQ), we continue to see a decline in meaningful efforts to invest in human infrastructure that impacts the LGBTQ community. And a big part of why: groups like the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, corporations like Amazon, and politicians who are unwilling to push for a scaled-up change in our approaches to inequities within our system.
Sure, we have marriage equality. But if you think that’s enough, you’re wrong. Of course, too often, the people we see cheering the embrace of a rainbow flag (in hopes of cashing on on LGBTQ spending) are white, cisgendered gay men and women, especially those that have power. And, in many cases, those that have power that was inherited.
Stonewall was a riot. Yet so often, the people who praise corporations that fight against paying taxes and bemoan protests against police brutality within the black community because it makes their drive difficult. There is a stark disconnect from the reality that so many are facing within the LGBTQ community, and when one raises the point, the white gay men and women with money and power immediately work to undermine their efforts.
We can do better
Pride celebrations ostensibly are a commemoration of the Stonewall riots. While they have morphed into a giant street party, complete with watchers leaving piles of trash and companies looking to sell a product, the idea still should resonate: LGBTQ people deserve equity.
What that looks like is often where we find disagreement. Joe Biden suggested during a debate this week that it was not the (federal) government’s role to enforce civil rights, specifically school integration, for black communities. I disagree. As a Democrat, I believe in Government, and the ability of Government to do great things.
This is why we must have progressive taxation that raises enough revenue to meet the needs of the people of our city, state, and country. And with that revenue, a commitment to equitable investment in human infrastructure. Within the LGBTQ community, to me that looks like housing, a pathway out of homelessness, opportunity for renewed chances at education and trade apprenticeship that was lost due to generations of homophobia, a healthcare system where every person has access to the medical services they need, and prescriptions they need, without going bankrupt, and workplace protections that disallow bosses the ability to abuse and discriminate against workers.
We don’t get that through libertarian idealism, philanthropy, or reliance on companies to change policies written on paper. We get it through taxes, enforcement, and meaningful penalties when companies wrong those most at risk of discrimination in housing, jobs, transportation, safety, and more.
Our current system is broken. And we can (and should) be glad for every Wal-Mart that puts pen to paper and crafts an anti-discrimination rule. But so long as these companies continue their efforts to put people in power that would deny the LGBTQ community equity and government-sponsored protections in order to save a buck; so long as these companies continue to do everything they can to defund the social safety net, disproportionately impacting our community, you won’t see me cheering their pinkwashing. And you definitely will not see me deriding those who raise their voices to remind us that these corporations may appear to be on our side, but will always be on the side of tax cuts first.