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The Disneyland Main Street fire engine has left the Anaheim, Calif., theme park only twice in the last 50 years--both times to transport LGBT Disney employees in nearby Long Beach's pride parade. This June marks the seventh time that Kaiser Permanente employees in San Francisco will march in their city's gay pride parade. This year they're dressing as vegetables and carrying signs that read "We're steamed and we don't take long to prepare and we're here, we're healthy, get used to it."
A decade ago it was unheard-of for corporations to support and identify with gay-themed activities to such a degree. But with the rise of LGBT employee groups in major corporations, showing your pride now has the blessing of higher-ups.
"Corporations are very necessary to the success of modern pride festivals and parades," says Jere Keys, a spokesman for Out and Equal Workplace Advocates. "The more businesses continue to interact with the LGBT community, increase awareness, increase inclusivity, the better it is for the entire LGBT community."
Not so fast, says Jamison Green, a board member at the nonprofit Transgender Law and Policy Institute. "On one hand it's a very positive thing," he says. "On the other hand it can feel like a kind of co-opting of queer culture, and that is conceptually problematic. When it appears that they are cultivating us to sell their product, that doesn't feel so good to me."
Whatever the motivation, U.S. corporations have become increasingly accepting of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers. Danny Baker, director of operations and finance at the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, notes that not only do many companies sponsor LGBT events and support employee groups, more than 100 major corporations now include gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies. (And hundreds include sexual orientation.) "This change in workplace culture has been fueled in large part by the efforts of employee resource groups that are educating employees, managers, and executives during pride months and beyond," he says.
It certainly didn't happen overnight. Seven years ago Kaiser's participation in the parade was markedly different. "We started out with a couple of drag queens and a couple of big hypodermic needles," says Jeffery Sterman, public affairs director for Kaiser Permanente, San Francisco.
Oh, how far we've come. Here's a look at some gay-friendly corporations and how they show their pride.
Bank of America What they do: The company's Pride Resource Group's 16 regional chapters, including New York City, Boston, and Charlotte, N.C., are participating in parades and pride festivals. The Hartford, Conn., group is sponsoring an LGBT film festival.
What they say: "Bank of America really is supportive of LGBT issues. We've got chapters all across the country and what they are after is really promoting an environment that attracts and retains [diverse employees]." --Jim Eckerle, senior vice president of enterprise initiative delivery
What they do: People of Diversity, an LGBT employee resource group, is creating a 15-panel AIDS quilt that will be on display at the Auburn Hills, Mich., headquarters in June. The quilt will be visible to the 11,000 employees who work in the building.
What they say: "Diversity is a key guiding principle at DaimlerChrysler--and it's the way we do business." --Tom LaSorda, president and CEO of the Chrysler Group
What they do: Cox puts its money where its mouth is. This summer the company is sponsoring the San Diego LGBT pride parade, the Pacific Pride Foundation's AIDS Walk in Santa Barbara, Calif., and the Kidz Korner at Nebraska's pride festival in Omaha. Cox also underwrites the Human Rights Campaign Louisiana and the annual Parenting Conference of Rainbow Families, D.C.
What they say: "Our approach to diversity goes beyond platitudes about the right thing to do. Diversity is part and parcel of our business goals, and we believe it is integral to our ongoing success." --David Grabert, director of media relations
The Walt Disney Co.
What they do: Vehicles and dancers from the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif., will participate in the Long Beach pride parade. Disneyland and Walt Disney World family passes admit designated domestic partners. And the Walt Disney Co. announced in April that the Fairy Tale Wedding, a high-end theme park commitment ceremony package previously available only to straight couples, would immediately be extended to same-sex couples as well.
What they say: "Cast members [Walt Disney Co. employees] can come up with ideas, develop their idea, and go through the process of getting it approved and making things happen. It sends a signal to all cast members: You don't have to hide who you are. Be yourself. The only thing that really matters is your performance as a cast member." --Rob Doughty, vice president of communications and adviser to the Walt Disney Co. group Lesbian and Gay United Employees
What they do: Gap GEAR (Gay Employees and Resources), founded in June 2006, will formally launch at the company's San Francisco headquarters during Pride Month in June. A panel of accomplished LGBT professionals will share their paths to career growth and discuss how their decision to be out hasn't compromised their achievements. The group's 150 employees will publish feature articles, pride event information, and profiles of LGBT leaders on the company's intranet. And throughout June employees can participate in a half-day volunteer event to give back to San Francisco's LGBT population.
What they say: "In a company of more than 5,000 local employees, Gap GEAR provides LGBT employees an excellent opportunity to meet other LGBT employees that they may not meet within the normal course of business. I am proud and happy to have met so many LGBT employees, develop friendships, and work on common goals that will support Gap Inc.'s LGBT employees and business." --David Barber, Gap GEAR chairperson
What they do: More than 100 employees, including at least one transgender physician, will participate in the San Francisco gay pride parade. The company will also have a sunscreen bar at the pride festival. The KP Pride LGBT employee network has chapters nationwide and is particularly active in California.
What they say: "[The parade] is one of the things for us that makes it really worthwhile. We have close to a million people along the parade route and we're always a very popular float. It's a great way to get our brand out to the broader community." --Jeffery Sterman, public affairs director for KP San Francisco
What they do: GLEAM (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Employees at Microsoft) has more than 700 members worldwide. The group educates the company on LGBT issues, promotes equality in the workplace, and provides professional and social support for LGBT employees.
What they say: "GLEAM is the face of Microsoft to the local, national, and international LGBT community. We volunteer, we sponsor, and we support LGBT organizations and causes that benefit our communities and families." --Jen Olson, GLEAM community outreach codirector
What they do: The aerospace company's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Allies network has six active chapters. The Boston chapter plans to participate in the city's AIDS Walk, Raytheon North Texas will host a brown-bag panel discussion featuring GLBTA leaders, and Raytheon Aurora in Colorado will head to the Denver pride festival. To celebrate their anniversary, the members of GLBTA Tucson will hold a dinner and present an award to an employee who has made major contributions to LGBT inclusion at Raytheon.
What they say: "From Huntsville, Ala., to El Segundo, Calif., we have planned a variety of wonderful activities that will give our LGBT employees and their allies a chance to pause and celebrate both the progress in the company toward LGBT workplace excellence and in our communities at large." --Louise Young, president of Raytheon Global GLBTA
What they do: Originally known as the Gay and Lesbian Organization at Whirlpool, the company's LGBT employee resource group changed its name to Whirlpool Pride Community to be more inclusive of straight allies. Four years ago the group sponsored a fund-raising event to help create the Out and Affirmation Center, part of YWCA Berrien County in southwest Michigan.
What they say: "It's important that everyone feels they can bring their entire self to work. It is your choice to be self-identified or not at Whirlpool. It's about creating a culture where it's OK and safe to self-identify; it's not going to jeopardize your career path in any way." --Mark McLane, director of global diversity and inclusion