Companies’ political spending contradicts Pride support

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Participants seen at the LA Pride Parade on June 9, 2019 (Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images)

This month’s Pride festivities mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a series of protests by New York City’s LGBTQ community that many point to as the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. Across America, rainbows dominate storefronts and adorn flags at parades and festivals.

Corporations are feeling the spirit too. Many of the nation’s largest enterprises are marking the occasion by launching rainbow-branded products, pledging to donate portions of their profits to LGBTQ advocacy groups or highlighting their own corporate success creating welcoming workplaces.

But beyond the press releases and branded content, many of these same companies’ PACs are giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to political candidates who oppose measures favored by the LGBTQ community.

Corporations and Pride

Throughout the 2016, 2018, and first quarter of 2020 election cycles, 17 major companies’ PACs, all of whom actively promote their involvement with Pride organizations or LGBTQ advocacy groups, gave more than $17 million dollars to representatives who recently opposed the Equality Act. The 2019 House bill incorporated the LGBTQ community into federal civil rights law, making sexual orientation and gender identity prohibited categories for discrimination and guaranteeing equal access to federal services. Many of those opposing the bill — all Republicans — said it would have violated religious liberty and forced people of faith to violate their conscience.

Many of these 166 representatives have also opposed other legislation aimed at eliminating discrimination against the LGBTQ community in education, voting, housing, the courts, the military, and other fields, often leading the dissent against these bills.

Telecommunications giant AT&T, one of the first companies to adopt a nondiscrimination clause including sexual orientation and a principal sponsor of advocacy groups The Trevor Project and LOVELOUD Festival, has also contributed over $3 million to representatives who opposed the 2019 bill through its employee-funded PAC.

Through its official PAC, AT&T has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), who suggested in 2015 that the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision which legalized gay marriage nationwide was an example of “the breakdown of the family” that contributed to the then-ongoing 2015 Baltimore riots.

Flores’ statement came in an interview with Tony Perkins, then-head of the Family Research Council, a think tank that promotes the belief that “homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large and can never be affirmed.”

The PAC has also contributed $65,000 to the campaign of Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), a staunch opponent of LGBTQ protections who has only voted in favor of measures favored by the LGBTQ community people, which he later admitted was accidental.

Aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman — which co-sponsored DC Pride in 2019 — gave $2.7 million to 159 of these candidates in the three cycles through its PAC and was a major donor to several officials who led the charge against LGBTQ-friendly initiatives.

Northrop-affiliated PACs have contributed over $57,000 to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who reportedly urged Republican representatives to vote down an amendment that would have prevented federal contractors from discriminating against members of the LGBTQ community. They have also given $17,000 to Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney whose public opposition to gay marriage caused a family rift with sister Mary, who married wife Heather Poe in 2012.

All these companies contribute to candidates across partisan and ideological lines, and the mere fact that they donated to representatives opposing LGBTQ-friendly bills does not necessarily equate to an endorsement of such beliefs. Most corporate PACs give to incumbent members of both parties.

Most of the businesses surveyed had partisan contribution splits hovering around 50-50, giving slightly more to one party but nonetheless contributing substantial amounts to candidates opposing and supporting bills tailored to aid the LGBTQ community.

That broad pattern of giving has caused headaches for companies in the past, particularly those that contributed to Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) as the congressman came under increased scrutiny over his controversial comments.

Lockheed Martin, which regularly appears in D.C. Pride as a corporate sponsor and parade participant, contributed more than $2.7 million to candidates who opposed the Equality Act through its PAC. This includes Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), who supported ratifying a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and has voted against every piece of legislation proposing additional protections for the LGBTQ community, and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), who came under fire in 2014 for allegedly making homophobic remarks to an Alabama real estate group in 2014. Both have received $60,000 dollars from the aerospace company since 2014.

Both Lockheed and Northrop have gone to great lengths to publicize their diversity initiatives, especially their designation as one of the “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign.

Other industries are also publicly supporting Pride while financially backing politicians who opposed bills designed to support the LGBT community.

Ernst & Young, PWC, and Deloitte, three of the nation’s premier financial services firms and major sponsors of NYC Pride 2019, have collectively contributed almost $5.3 million to these candidates through their PACs.

While Ernst & Young advertises itself as “advocating for diversity and inclusivity,” company-affiliated PACs nonetheless contributed $20,000 to the campaign of Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), who, while in the Illinois state Senate in 2015, voted against a ban on gay conversion therapy, the widely-discredited practice of attempting to “cure” LGBTQ persons.

Even companies generally perceived as left-leaning have contributed significant sums to candidates opposed to additional legal protections for the LGBTQ community. Google‘s PAC, for example, has contributed $60,000 each to McCarthy and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who opposed reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013 because the bill included provisions specifically tailored to protect the LGBTQ community.

Many members of the LGBTQ community have decried the increasing visibility of corporate sponsors in Pride celebrations nationwide, with numerous op-eds condemning what they see as major businesses paying lip service to actual issues while profiting from rainbow-branded memorabilia.

Apple recently reintroduced its Pride Edition Apple Watch, the rainbow cloth band available separately for $49. Coca-Cola is promoting a variety of rainbow-branded clothing options available on their site and Microsoft is selling a limited-edition Pride keyboard for $149.

Requests for comment from the Human Rights Campaign and all companies were unanswered by press time.

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