It’s pride month, which means corporations are tripping over themselves to come out as allies of the LGBT community — even those corporations that are actively standing in the way of legislation that would expand protections for the members of that community. But a growing number of activists and lawmakers are calling those companies out for talking out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to gay rights.
Even as polling shows more Americans than ever — 76% according to PRRI — favor laws that would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans from discrimination, 2021 is shaping up to be a record-breaking year for anti-LGBT legislation at the state level. The organization Corporate Accountability Action has launched a campaign to highlight corporate donations to anti-LGBTQ legislators in Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee.
AT&T is among the worst offenders. The telecom giant, whose social media pages are presently bedazzled with rainbow banners and badges, has boldly claimed it “believe[s] we have a moral and business obligation to engage on the fundamental issues of equality and fairness.” But, according to data gathered by the National Institute on Money in Politics and compiled by Corporate Accountability Action, AT&T has made at least 327 donations totaling $204,350 to 133 anti-LGBTQ legislators. (AT&T declined to comment on the report.)
AT&T isn’t alone. General Motors — which boasts of being “first automaker to run an LGBTQ-specific ad” — made 63 donations totaling $51,000 to 35 anti-LGBTQ legislators, according to Corporate Accountability Action’s research. (GM did not respond to a request for comment.) The Coca-Cola Company claims to show its support for the gay community by doing everything “from supporting LGBTQI pride parades to running rainbow-colored billboards.” Meanwhile, Corporate Accountability Action found Coke and its affiliated PAC have made 28 donations totaling $9,550 to 23 anti-LGBTQ legislators. Asked about the gifts, a representative for Coca-Cola noted that the donations in question occurred before the company “updated our political contributions criteria” in the fall of 2020, declaring explicitly that “candidates will not be eligible for a political contribution from The Coca-Cola Company or the Coca-Cola PAC if they have made egregious remarks” on a range of topics that including the “LGBT community.” (Coke “paused” political giving in response to the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.)
The beer giant Anheuser-Busch professes a commitment to “promoting inclusion and diversity across our business and supporting the communities we stand by whether through impactful partnerships or empowering our teams.” But the company has made 48 donations totaling $35,350 to 29 anti-LGBTQ legislators, according to the group. (Anheuser-Busch did not respond to a request for comment.) NBCUniversal — celebrating Pride Month with oodles of queer content on its platforms and channels — made 16 donations totaling $24,000 to 11 anti-LGBTQ legislators. (NBC Universal did not respond to a request for comment either.)
But it’s not just local lawmakers standing in the way of progress for the gay community. The U.S. Senate has the opportunity this month to pass the Equality Act, a law that would federally prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation — if enough Republicans get on board to pass it. The Equality Act first passed the House back in 2019, but then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to bring it to the Senate floor for a vote.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) has been highlighting the hypocrisy of those corporations offering lip service in support of gay rights, while also offering material support to McConnell. “AT&T donated $56,295 to Mitch McConnell’s 2020 campaign — while he was actively blocking the Equality Act. But what a great Pride Twitter banner,” Jayapal tweeted last week. She went on to call out American Airlines (which donated $46,617 to Mitch McConnell’s 2020 campaign), Walmart ($150,000 to McConnell and other GOP senators), and the defense contractor Raytheon (whose PAC gave $18,500 to McConnell’s campaign).
Jayapal and the others have a good reason to speak up: because it works. As Sasha Issenberg, author of “The Engagement: America’s Quarter-Century Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage,” has written, gay marriage is legal today because of similar pressure activists applied more than a decade ago. “They demonstrated that shaming and shunning could amount to more than an online pile-on and serve as a potent tactic for political change,” Issenberg wrote recently.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has vowed to have a vote on the Equality Act this month. If all 50 Democrats support the bill — and it’s not a sure thing, as Sen. Joe Manchin, the lone Democrat who has not signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill, expressed reservations about the legislation when it passed the house two years ago — 10 Republicans would still need to sign on for the measure to pass.
The best way that Congress can celebrate #Pride is by passing the Equality Act. It’s time.
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) June 8, 2021