Every June, LGBTQ Pride hits streets across the world in the form of parades, festivals and other celebratory events. Those are paid for largely through corporate sponsorships and donations. And this week, influencer and LGBTQ advocate Ashlee Marie Preston is asking: What’s happening to all that money now that Pride has effectively been canceled for the first time in decades due to the pandemic?
On Saturday, Preston launched the #PridePledge, an effort asking corporations to reallocate their annual LGBTQ Pride budgets back to the community to help sustain LGBTQ groups and individuals impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Preston, who has served on the board of LA Pride in addition to campaigning as a surrogate for Elizabeth Warren’s presidential bid, said that corporations typically fund Pride festivals to the tune of anywhere between $10,000 and $1 million. In 2019, for example, Verizon announced a two-year title sponsorship with LA Pride, donating $1 million to Christopher Street West, the nonprofit that organizes and produces each year’s festivities.
“Imagine the top 50 corporations, the combined money they’re spending nationally on Pride,” said Preston. “What we’re asking for is minuscule compared to their spending capacity as allies.”
In an effort to feature voices from the community, Preston decided to launch the #PridePledge as a petition on Change.org first.
“Pride isn’t just about the party, it’s about the people,” reads the petition launched Saturday, which received over a thousand signatures in its first 24 hours. The petition describes how the community is affected by the pandemic’s unemployment crisis as well as health risks, and asks brands to reallocate earmarked Pride festival funds to organizations serving the LGBTQ community.
“Those vulnerable sub-communities under the LGBTQ umbrella disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, are the same ones who fought on the frontlines for the very freedom we celebrate annually—at the festivals you’ve graciously sponsored,” reads the petition.
While there are no hard sign-ons just yet, Preston said she’s already in talks with a couple of companies. In late April, Preston launched the national relief fund and social impact campaign You Are Essential. The very next day, the campaign’s first donation came in from power couple Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union. Partnerships with celebrity influencers like Rosario Dawson and Diane Guerrero (Orange Is the New Black) quickly followed.
Preston said that companies taking the #PridePledge can donate through You Are Essential, which already issues grants to LGBTQ organizations, through the Town Hall Project’s Mutual Aid Hub, or can donate directly to Pride organizations they have existing relationships with.
Next week, Preston said, she plans to start publishing lists of which companies are taking the pledge to reallocate their June LGBTQ Pride budgets—as well as which companies are “playing sleep” and staying quiet.
“I chose the petition route because I wanted to make space for voices that are typically muffled by rainbow capitalism,” said Preston. “My hope was that sponsors would come into contact with real stories from real people around the disproportionate impact they experienced not just during the pandemic, but all the time.”
Preston’s reference to “rainbow capitalism” illustrates a growing divide in the LGBTQ community over whether people benefit from corporate allyship in the form of Pride month campaigns that often take the form of rainbow-branded products with little financial return to those who need it most.
“These are the individuals whose narratives are swept under the bleachers by ‘Pride Inc.’ and swapped out for a prepackaged, sanitized version of LGBTQ identity fit for corporate consumption,” Preston said. “I want them to meet the members of our community who exist outside of the marketing deck; the ones who fight on the frontline for the freedom we celebrate every year.”