Pride Organizations Experience Backlash For Focus on Corporate And Political Sponsorship

As Hampton Roads Pride Produces 29th Annual PrideFest Celebration

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Hampton Roads Pride volunteers have their hands full this week putting the final touches on the 29th Annual Pridefest coming up this weekend. The two-day main event is the culmination of a weeklong celebration with a block party at Scope Arena; the nation’s only Pride Boat Parade; and Pridefest at Town Point Park, which attracts thousands of people each year.

That’s a long way from Pride’s humble origins in the Eighties as a potluck picnic in Lakewood Park. And as Pridefest has grown, so has the need to aggressively fundraise to produce the event each year.

At the same time, the LGBTQ community has made enormous strides in terms of visibility and acceptance, capturing the attention of business owners and political leaders who see the value in marketing to and supporting the LGBTQ community.

Yet across the country, many in the queer community are questioning a shift in Pride organizations’ priorities from LGBTQ needs and interests to commercial and political sponsorship goals. This year has seen several activist groups and individuals condemn festival organizers for ‘pink washing’ or commodifying the LGBTQ consumer and selling out to the highest bidder at the expense of the event’s roots in inclusivity, activism, and unity.

As a result, Pride organizations are experiencing backlash from the very community they are chartered to represent.

In January, Pittsburgh’s LGBT nonprofit, the Delta Foundation, announced this year’s Pride Parade on June 11 would be renamed the EQT Equality March as part of a sponsorship deal with a Pittsburgh-based natural gas company responsible for fracking as well as campaign donations to anti-LGBT legislators.

Almost immediately after the announcement, the new name drew backlash from the Pittsburgh queer community. A counter group hosted a separate march the same day as the official parade.

“Pride has historically been about resisting. It’s about bringing visibility to a marginalized community,” says Ciora Thomas, leader of SisTers PGH, a LGBTQ organization helping to organize the counter march. “That’s the history of Pride. We are trying to carry on that legacy.”

In New York City, a dispute over a corporate sponsorship ended with United Airlines withdrawing from this year’s NYC pride parade. Delta Airlines, a corporate sponsor of the event, had objected to the rivals’ presence, citing exclusivity terms in their contract with organizers.

Meanwhile, critics railed against the entire controversy.

“This whole thing centers around corporate branding and logos. It has nothing to do with LGBT rights, supporting our community, or helping anyone other than themselves,” said Bill Browning of LGBTQ Nation. “United doesn’t care about supporting us if they can’t show their logo. Delta cares more about United and other competitors’ logos than they do about supporting LGBT people or they wouldn’t try to limit the amount of support the parade can get.

In some cases, the discussion has evolved into activism and public protest.

Last week Pride organizers in Charlotte, NC rejected a parade float application from the group “Gays for Trump.”  Local activist Kevin Cammarn said, “Supporting the president is not a reason for exclusion from an LGBT event. However, supporting a president who has packed his cabinet with unabashedly anti-gay politicians and activists is a pretty painstakingly obvious reason to be excluded from said LGBT events.”

At DC’s Capital Pride weekend this past Saturday, a group called “No Justice, No Pride” (NJNP) appeared at the Capital Pride parade in Washington Saturday in both a march of their own and a stand-off/blockade that resulted in the Capital Pride parade being re-routed and significantly delayed. NJNP sought to draw attention to social justice issues, police brutality, and the increasingly corporate nature and sponsorship of Capital Pride.

NJNP said via statement on Facebook that the Capital Pride Alliance “has consistently demonstrated that it is more interested in accommodating the interests of Metropolitan police and of corporate sponsors than it is in supporting the very communities it supposedly represents.”

Here at home, Hampton Roads Pride has also come under criticism from some in the community for a perceived focus on corporate sponsorships and relationships with politicians such as Rep. Scott Taylor whom many feel do not represent the best interests of the LGBTQ community.

Said Pride president, Michael Berlucchi, “The No Justice, No Pride movement raises important topics that our community must face and serves as a poignant reminder to Pride organizations that we must be thoughtful about our actions and respectful of the experiences and traditions of all members of our community.

“I was so sorry to see discord at Capital Pride but also recognize that many people are frustrated and feeling anxious about their future. They are also justifiably empowered to advocate for themselves and others.”

While there are no planned counter protests or demonstrations planned locally this weekend, some event planners are offering alternatives to the large festival held in Norfolk’s Town Point Park.

An alternative Pride picnic harkening back to Hampton Roads Pride’s origins will be held on June 25. According to the event’s Facebook page, the picnic is billed as “a grassroots, non-corporate celebration of Pride for all.”  This nascent group seeks to establish a smaller, locally based Pride event that can bring the community together and offer more affordable ways for interest groups and businesses to reach the Hampton Roads LGBTQ community.

Divine Entertainment, a local event production company, is producing what is billed as the “Official Pride After Party at the Granby Theater” on Saturday night following Pridefest.

Said Berlucchi, “I hope that in Hampton Roads, we seize this opportunity to engage in the conversations necessary to build understanding and trust and that we find a way to work together, strategically, to advance our mission to support the inclusion, dignity, and equality of all people.”

For information about official Hampton Roads Pride and other events taking place this weekend, check out the OutWire757 event calendar.