By KENDRA SITTON | Uptown News
With the announcement that Pride parades and festivals were being replaced with virtual celebrations came jokes about corporations ditching the LGBT+ community as quickly as they had taken it up. The subtext of this internet commentary is the idea that much of the business advocacy surrounding Pride is a way to profit off a marginalized community now that public opinion has shifted in favor of more LGBT+ rights.
However, leaders in San Diego Pride and locally-based businesses have built a mutual relationship. Many of those businesses have continued to support Pride virtually — their participation has just transformed.
“Our relationship with San Diego Pride is anything but transactional,” said Noah Lomax, the chair of HP’s global employee resource group (ERG) dedicated to LGBT+ people. “We meet with them on a regular basis throughout the year. They came in and did our ally training in the fall and we are actively involved in different needs that they have.”
HP was the first company in the country to have an ERG dedicated to diversity and inclusion efforts regarding LGBT+ people. In each of their locations, the LGBT+ ERG receives funding and celebrates Pride in their own way, although a global Pride celebration was planned for the first time this year. That celebration is still happening despite coronavirus but through themed weeks, Zoom backgrounds, and a virtual parade.
Through the funding provided to the ERG, HP has sponsored San Diego virtual Pride events, including an upcoming bingo fundraiser on June 3 at 4 p.m. with drag performer Paris Sukomi Max. The fundraiser will help support Pride’s year-round programming as well as the organization’s charitable giving to local LGBT+-serving nonprofits.
SD Pride and its sponsors have also responded to specific needs in the community due to COVID-19. Tito’s Vodka is working with Pride to provide grocery cards to employees at local gay bars who are out of work. HP and Northrop Grumman sponsored a resume-building workshop led by Taylor Meadows of Indeed where 250 of the attendees were given feedback on their resumes.
The help offered to unemployed LGBT+ people is significant because community members historically have higher poverty and unemployment rates than the general population. Recent polling from the Human Rights Campaign shows the economic downturn has exacerbated these existing inequalities.
“As an LGBT person, when you go looking for a job, there are some different factors at play,” said Sarafina Scapicchio, SD Pride’s director of philanthropy. She helped plan the virtual event to support unemployed community members.
Since Scapicchio works directly with the businesses involved in Pride, she has heard the criticism of Pride being too corporate.
“I think sometimes what young people could forget is that a lot of these people [who engage] are queer people, at least with our Pride,” she said. “I remember a time when you could not come out at work. You could not put a picture of your partner at your job or else you would be fired.”
Much of the engagement with Pride comes from company’s ERGs, which are comprised of LGBT+ people in the workplace. Those ERGs play a significant role in advocating for workplace protections and rights. The ERGs have planned diversity and inclusion trainings led by SD Pride on how to treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. The community found within ERGs, as well as their external advocacy, can also play a role in where LGBT+ people choose to work.
“When I was switching companies, having an external presence [at Pride] was something that was very important for me as an individual,” said Jeff Willy, who leads the ERG at Vertex Pharmaceuticals.
Vertex’s ERG has long been present in Boston’s Pride parade and planned to participate in San Diego Pride for the first time this year until the coronavirus pandemic derailed it.
Other local companies have had major presences in the SD Pride Parade for years. In 2019, over 400 Qualcomm employees, friends and staff marched in the parade. Qualcomm remains a sponsor of this year’s virtual events.
“Our internal LGBTQ+ employee resource group has been instrumental in continuing our celebration of Pride month in general and the Pride parade specifically,” Vicki Mealer-Burke, Qualcomm’s chief diversity officer, said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with SD Pride and hopefully attending the 2021 San Diego Pride Parade in person!”
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.