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Corporations scale back shows of Pride support amid anti-trans and anti-gay laws

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Only a few years ago, companies were often accused of pinkwashing during Pride month, pretending to support LGBTQ people while doing little or nothing behind the scenes. Well, now, as more states pass anti-trans and anti-gay laws, some companies are pulling back even from the appearance of support. Bud Light and Target both faced conservative backlash and took action to appease those critics. And this week, the Starbucks Workers United Union said store managers are disallowing signs of support for pride. Starbucks denies that claim. Let's talk about this with Leticia Miranda, columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, covering retail and consumer goods. Happy to have you here.

LETICIA MIRANDA: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Are the examples I mentioned outliers, or do you see a broader shift in the way big companies are approaching LGBTQ issues this Pride month?

MIRANDA: I don't think there's so much a shift in how companies are approaching it. I think what's changed is the political environment that has become very polarized, very politicized around certain issues like the LGBTQ community, Black Lives Matter. I think that that has complicated how they market. But it also translates to real dollars, and it translates to the interests of shareholders. So I think that their job has just become a lot more complicated, and they have a lot more to balance as they kind of think through some of these campaigns.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned the marketing budget and you mentioned shareholders. Is there a fundamental values assessment of, like, who are we as a company? What do we stand for? Or is it just which position is going to alienate more customers and hurt our stock price more?

MIRANDA: Yeah, I mean, I think that that's for companies to assess. So I think brands before kind of put on these pride campaigns - you know, rolled out, in Target's case, sometimes really campy and cheesy pride lines that became sort of a joke within the community. But I think what's changed is that I think a lot of them kind of did these marketing campaigns as they've done in the past without considering how politicized it's become to be queer in this country. So they're not really putting a whole lot of thought and intention in rolling out these campaigns, which not only alienates the LGBTQ consumers that they had, but also people who are, you know, possibly transphobic, homophobic or just don't understand what the point is of supporting pride. So I think that that's, like, sort of the challenge for a lot of these companies now - is figuring out how to be more intentional in how they market these things.

SHAPIRO: So if the bad way to approach this is, oh, I'll roll out some rainbow gear and make a buck off gay people while also alienating anti-gay people - if that's the wrong way to do it, what's the right way to do it?

MIRANDA: Yeah. So I think that North Face is a really good example of doing it. They do a pride campaign every year. And in this year, they did a pride campaign with a drag queen who did a really campy kind of ad for them. It's her just kind of using kind of language as a joke in a way to connect queers being out in terms of their sexuality.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

PATTIE GONIA: Here with the North Face. We are here to invite you to come out - in nature with us. We like to call this little tour the Summer of Pride.

MIRANDA: So and I think, with that, the difference is they were pretty stern - this is our point of view. This is our stand. This is what we want to do. And I think also what's changed is that they're also supporting nonprofit organizations. So I think it shows, at least for LGBTQ consumers, that it's not just for the company's profit, but it's also to help the community.

SHAPIRO: Just to take a step back a bit, is there any evidence that boycott threats have actually had a financial impact on the companies that have been targeted over the last month or so?

MIRANDA: So the actual impact on the companies is quite minimal. At least in Anheuser-Busch's situation, they told investors in May that they only saw a 1% drop in their global sales from the boycott. Target has seen a stock price drop since the protests. But at the same time, there's this bigger sort of economic environment that they're facing, which is that a lot of people are not spending on discretionary goods, like buying a random fruit bowl at Target or picking up a tank top that they didn't plan on buying, because inflation is so high and it's eating into their budget. So when you look at the stock price drop, there's a lot more to the story than just the effect of boycott calls.

SHAPIRO: Leticia Miranda writes about retail for Bloomberg Opinion. Thank you very much.

MIRANDA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Patrick Jarenwattananon
Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.