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Pride: The View from the Street

When we write about the above subject (the pressure operating on corporations to be inclusive), we generally note that this isn't just a question of doing the right thing, it's also a question of self-interest. That is to say, there are outspoken right-wing activists, but they are often canceled out by outspoken LGBTQ activists. There's also the question of being welcoming to as many potential customers as is possible. And employees also play a role in all of this, as the workforce is disproportionately young and educated, and young and educated people are disproportionately socially liberal.

It is all good and well for us to claim that's the case, but we thought it might be nice to have some first-hand evidence. So, we asked regular mailbag contributor P.W. in Valley Village, CA, to share some thoughts about this year's pride parade in Los Angeles. Take it away, P.W.:

While it may not seem so at first glance, there is a fascinating parallel between modern LGBTQ+ Pride parades and St. Patrick's Day parades. Here's why.

The tradition of St. Patrick's Day parades is an American phenomenon that goes back centuries, with the first in New York City taking place in 1762. Even to this day, Ireland itself doesn't celebrate the day to anywhere near the degree that we do here in the U.S., and for a very important reason.

The mid-19th century was the time of the Irish potato famine, an event that caused upwards of 2,000,000 people to abandon their homeland, with most finding their way to America. These people were poor, disease-ridden, unskilled refugees who huddled in rickety tenements. Even worse, they were Catholic. The discrimination they faced was monumental. To this day we remain aware of "Help Wanted" signs appearing in windows, along with the note "No Irish Need Apply."

And so, the St. Patrick's parades of the 18th century found themselves repurposed in the 19th century as "Irish Pride parades," a way to counter and push back against the blatant discrimination against the Irish that was so much a part of the day, with contingents of employee groups marching to ensure the delivery of that message. Here comes the contingent of nurses. You remember that wonderful nurse who cared for your sick mother and brought her back to health? She's Irish. And now come the firemen. That day you were so thankful that your house was saved by those brave firemen? They were Irish. Policemen marching down the street in uniform. How about that fine policeman who chased down that thief and recovered your purse? He's Irish.

Move forward a century, and the organizers of the very first permitted, street-closing gay pride parade in Los Angeles in 1970 copied this exact same model to mark the 1-year anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riot in New York City. And to do the exact same thing, counter and push back against the blatant discrimination of the day. With marching contingents of community members to ensure the delivery of that message.

In the early years (including the very first), the LGBTQ+ Pride parades were part protest and part Mardi Gras. And very much a celebration of "We're here, and an integral part of the community. COME SEE!!!" But just as the "Irish Pride" parades evolved, so have the LGBTQ+ Pride parades, these days embracing a much larger rainbow, including full-throated support for those of the gender-identity minority as well. Which brings us to the present, and the most recent L.A. Pride parade on Hollywood Boulevard.

I've participated in Pride parades since the 1990s, and have myself organized eleven Pride festivals and parades. I also know two of the three people who organized that first L.A. Pride Parade in 1970. So I think I've got a pretty good perspective on the Pride movement, and how it's evolved over the years. Every once in a while, this evolution produces a sea-change, with 2023 being one of these sea-change years.

While for many years, corporate participation has been a fixture of Pride parades, it's largely been in the interest of promoting this vodka, that beer, and that upcoming movie. And while this year also had its corporate promotion, there was very little "Drink this beer." Instead, it was contingent after contingent after contingent of hundreds of marchers, doing so behind a banner proclaiming "Employees of [COMPANY]". Kaiser Permanente Healthcare, NBC Universal, the L.A. Dodgers, Delta Airlines, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, the L.A. Galaxy, Space-X, Disney, L.A. Cares Healthcare, the National Football League, and on and on and on. Affinity group after affinity group after affinity group marching down Hollywood Boulevard.

Here comes the contingent of healthcare workers. You remember that team of doctors and nurses who cared for you when your health took a turn for the worse? They're LGBTQ. Policemen marching down the street in uniform. Remember who came to your home after you'd been burglarized, and helped you get your life back together? They're LGBTQ. Look, it's Delta Airlines. A sea of smiling faces that make sure you get to your destination safely? Yet again, LGBTQ.

This isn't a change, as employee affinity groups have been participating for many years. This change this year is the dramatic increase in the numbers, as corporate affinity groups represented upwards of two-thirds of the 150+ organizations participating in the parade. This was a sea-change. Combined with yet another sea-change development this year, that of trans being a much more visible part of the LGBTQ rainbow.

The absolute numbers of T in the workforce is dwarfed by the number of LG, making the T issue a minor one by comparison in terms of the numbers within corporate culture. This "minor," however, wasn't in evidence by this year's corporate contingents. Rather, the trans flags were everywhere. The trans colors were everywhere. The trans support signs were everywhere, with upwards of two-thirds of the corporate affinity groups making it abundantly clear that they have the back of their trans coworkers. That speaks well for the future.

There is a quote (wrongly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi) that speaks a great truth: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

The gay community fought the gay marriage issue: While the current situation with what's going on with the trans Americans and with drag performers is just horrible, the path to "win" has no alternative but to go through the first three. So, despite the fact that the troglodytes are fighting with all the strength they can muster, take heart. The only reason they're doing so is because you've made it past the first two, and are well into the thick of the third. And... the gay community, the ones who won the gay marriage battle, has your back. Take solace from this situation, redouble your efforts, and keep up the good fight.

You're winning.

Thanks, P.W., for sharing your thoughts! (Z)

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