“Pride reminds me of the America I want to live in,” I said to whomever was next to me. I was standing near Fourth and Market, a few vodka Red Bulls in, and watching as the beautiful, multi-hued, heartful, people of Glide accompanied their float. Rainbow flags stretched as far down San Francisco’s main artery as far as anyone could see, and the crowd was so full of love and, well, Pride that it was hard not to fall head over heels for this messy and complicated city all over again …
This year, as nefarious Republicans tried to dismantle health care, give tax breaks to the wealthy, and pass anti-LGBTQ laws, Pride felt especially significant. It was a beacon, screaming, “We will not go backward. Everyone deserves equality, justice and love.”
Then, the Walmart float went by.
“Fuck this shit,” I said to my friends Matt and Alyssa. And all the screaming and cheering that had echoed down the thoroughfare for grassroots organizations, like the Berkeley Free Clinic and Swords to Plowshares, noticeably diminished. How am I supposed to cheer for a company that pays its employees so little that some stores hold food drives for them during the holidays? The irony wasn’t lost on us that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers passed by shortly afterward with only a fraction of marchers that Walmart had.
The corporatization of Pride is a strange thing. On one hand, the money that big corporations like Chipotle, Facebook and Apple pay each year helps fund the day of festivities that so joyously heartens our city. And it’s also really important that these corporations are showing their love for their LGBTQ employees. The visibility of having Fortune 500 companies support their queer workers is integral in the movement toward equity and equality.
But also, this is San Francisco. Being pro-gay is, at the very minimum, a great PR move. If these companies really wanted to show that they believed in LGBTQ equality and women’s rights and that no human is illegal and that trans and black lives matter, they’d put their money where their mouth is.
Burger King having rainbow crowns and rainbow burger wrappers is cute. Budweiser advertising with rainbow beer bottles is just darling. But honestly, fuck them. Fuck all of them.
Don’t use the struggle for human dignity and the fight for access to equal treatment and safety as some marketing ploy. If these companies really gave a shit, they’d instead be spending that money on giant billboards in Mississippi that say: “Budweiser supports marriage equality and thinks the new law you’re trying to pass is really mean.” Burger King should identify the districts of everyone voting for TrumpCare and take out ads saying: “Our customers deserve health care to cover the maladies they get from eating our food.” And Walmart should just start paying its employees living wages.
The morning of San Francisco Pride, I read about the bravery of the people in Istanbul who gathered despite the ban on their Pride parade. At risk to themselves and their loved ones, they showed up to say, “We won’t be silenced and we won’t go back into the closets.” It was the same sentiment that launched the gay pride parades in San Francisco and New York all those decades ago. And even though it seems like we’ve come a long way, we still have politicians trying to pass laws that are horribly anti-LGBTQ.
The message of Pride is just as important now as it was then.
So I’ve got an idea for the Pride organizers in major cities like San Francsico, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and anywhere else where major corporate money is used to advertise: Insist that these companies spend an equal amount of money promoting equality in regions where the message needs to be heard. In San Francisco, we already know that love is love. I’d like to see Walmart promote that same message in Arkansas, where they’re from.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.