Businesses Should Support Real Change, Not Just Rainbows, Especially in Red States

Pride season is in full swing (pun intended), and corporations are decking themselves out in rainbows and sponsoring parades.

That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not meaningful brand activism either.

As someone who grew up in a suburb of Boise, the LGBTQ hub of my deeply red state, I’m heartened when I see major Idaho corporations publicly supporting Pride. My jaw dropped when I drove past the billboard on JUMP (the nonprofit community center built by the heirs of french fry magnet J.R. Simplot) advocating the 30th anniversary of Boise Pride.

As a kid attending public school in Nampa during the 1990s, I didn’t know a single openly LGBTQ person. The messages I heard about sexuality were overwhelmingly straight, white, Christian, and conforming. In my town, gay men were considered disease-ridden perverts; lesbians were unattractive tomboys who couldn’t “get a man,” and bisexuals were confused sluts, if they existed at all. (Trans+ people certainly didn’t.) It wasn’t until I left Idaho in 2005 that I began the journey to accept my queer identity.

My upbringing in Nampa was 20-plus years ago, and I’d like to think a child in school today would have a better experience. Yet just two years ago, a gay man named Steve Nelson was murdered in Nampa because of his sexual orientation. And the Idaho legislature is comprised of many of the same old, white men who ran the state when I was a child, who are related to many of the same people who ran the state when my parents were growing up. Because of their lack of leadership and understanding of people who are different, we still lack state laws to protect basic LGBTQ civil rights.

This underlies why a rainbow float in a Pride parade doesn’t cut it for me when it comes to corporate activism. If you care about supporting full equality for our community, challenge yourself to do better.

Real change means using your corporate platform to advocate for adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s human rights laws so that no one can be fired, denied housing, or public accommodations based on who they are or who they love. It means sending your C-suite to the legislature to support the programs that support the 40% of homeless youth who identify as queer. It means showing up to support access to healthcare, including STI prevention and comprehensive sex education in public schools. It means working with law enforcement to end violence and murder of transwomen, particularly transwomen of color. It means cutting a check to organizations like Pride Foundation or volunteering your time to increase access to scholarships for LGBTQ students and grant money to the nonprofits working toward real change.