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My family has been boycotting Chick-fil-A for over a decade now, so I was a bit surprised to see an empty cup from the restaurant on the table in the backyard.
For years, Chick-fil-A donated millions to anti-LGBTQ causes in an effort to destroy families like mine. In fact, for a brief time in 2012, it was at the epicenter of the marriage equality debate. Its donations to anti-gay-rights groups spurred protests, including politicians threatening to ban the restaurants from their cities.
Chick-fil-A announced it would stop donating to some organizations with anti-LGBTQ records in 2020, but the Daily Beast reported that its CEO, Dan Cathy, is a major donor to the National Christian Charitable Foundation, which is currently involved in anti-LGBTQ causes. Basically, Cathy is playing hide-and-seek without bothering with the hiding part.
Anyway, I figured the cup was left behind by one of the landscapers. I’m sure it was only a couple of seconds, but it felt as if I stared at that thing for an hour before tossing it. As disappointing as it was to see that restaurant’s logo in my home, there is a small measure of comfort in knowing where Chick-fil-A and I stood. Can’t say that about other places where I spend money, especially during Pride month.
This month, Corporate Accountability Action launched a new social media campaign in time for Pride called #keepyourpride. It’s designed to draw attention to the companies that wave rainbow flags in one hand while placing donations into the pockets of anti-LGBTQ politicians with the other. The state politicians who do things like sponsor and/or vote for the kind of anti-LGBTQ bills currently sweeping across the country.
Take Tennessee, for example. In May, Gov. Bill Lee signed a law requiring businesses to post signs if they allowed transgender people to use their restrooms, sort of a fresh take on dehumanizing segregation signs. Analysis of public records conducted by Corporate Accountability Action found that, since 2015, Coca-Cola had donated $3,200 to politicians who had taken a lead on anti-LGBTQ policies in Tennessee, including one who sponsored the bill signed in May. Anheuser-Busch gave nearly $30,000 in donations to anti-LGBTQ politicians during that same period, and two of them sponsored that bill. AT&T gave $127,500, and eight of those recipients were sponsors of the bill. And the list goes on.
Elsewhere in the country, the same targeted community.
The same political dynamics.
Only thing different is the names.
Take General Motors, for example. Since 2015, it has contributed $3,500 to five lawmakers in Arkansas who led LGBTQ discrimination efforts and $3,250 to four such lawmakers in Mississippi. But meanwhile in Michigan, it joined other corporations in an open letter advocating for a new state law to ban LGBTQ discrimination.
Now, in the grand scheme of things, those amounts are nothing in comparison to how much money flows into politics. Which raises the question: Why make the donation at all?
What’s the return on that kind of investment? What is the mathematical formula that corporate America uses to determine how much anti-LGBTQ sentiment is OK to support? Or perhaps how much equality to support?
I’ve always wondered how many rainbow T-shirts a Fortune 500 company would need to print to nullify the effects of a bigoted piece of legislation it indirectly supported.
Look, we all know playing both sides has financial advantages. But there are LGBTQ-friendly politicians in both parties. Why give money to the ones who are not?
A year ago, the national conversation after George Floyd’s murder shifted from being non-racist to actively antiracist. Now the dialogue for the LGBTQ community is centered on separating advertisers from allies.
Advertisers market to LGBTQ customers. Allies support them, and fight with them and, if necessary, for them.
I don’t know how much money a supposedly LGBTQ-friendly business can give to an anti-LGBTQ politician or cause and still be considered a supporter of human rights.
I do know if the answer isn’t zero, there’s a problem.
It’s bad enough to see allies donate to lawmakers who vote for discrimination, but some of those dollars are going toward the very people coming up with the ideas.
That is what makes these corporations feel less like allies and more like opportunists. Worse, some of these businesses seem to believe that by playing both sides they won’t be held accountable.
Corporate Accountability Action launched this campaign to remind corporate Pride enthusiasts that allyship is more than float sponsorships and mission statements. It’s more than progressive human resources policies and donations to charity.
It’s doing something as simple — and obvious — as not giving money to people writing discrimination laws you claim you are against.
Instead of using their money and clout to fight for LGBTQ rights, some of these companies are divvying funds between both sides of the battle so that, regardless of outcome, they end up on the “winning side.” This is a rationale that only works if one thinks being on the wrong side of history is winning.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.