Once upon a time, in the early 2000s, when writing checks to pay for stuff was something people did, I had rainbow checks. Each check was a little Pride flag. I wanted the electricity company, my landlord, my credit card company and all of the nieces and nephews who I’d send a $5 check for each birthday with “for ice cream” written in the subject line, that what they were getting was gay money.
I don’t know that it made a difference. (Well, definitely not for the nieces and nephews because I made that part up.) But, I do know that when I was writing those checks, it was perfectly legal in Michigan for my employer to fire me or for my landlord to kick me out for being a lesbian. Oh, and guess what? IT STILL IS.
Today there is an endless list of companies slapping rainbows on their corporate logos or selling rainbow t-shirts or wishing everyone a happy Pride on social media. Things have changed since I was writing my Pride checks. Now, instead of me sending rainbows to DTE Energy, DTE Energy is sending them to me by way of a giant rainbow banner reading “PRIDE” on their website. An important difference, of course, is that I am still the one paying them.
No, I’m not saying LGBTQ+ people should get electricity for free (though it’s an idea!). I’m just pointing out that the money still flows largely one way, no matter how rainbowy a company gets.
For their LGBTQ-inclusive policies, practices and benefits, DTE got a 75/100 on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Corporate Equality Index. I send DTE money every month. Then, the DTE Energy PAC donates to anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers like Republican Jim Runestead, a Michigan state senator. Runestead’s current priority is ensuring that transgender athletes can’t compete in school sports — a very pressing concern that addresses approximately two transgender student-athletes a year.
DTE Energy PAC also donated to Michigan Sen. Lana Theis, the Republican “author” of the anti-trans athlete bill. In reality, the anti-trans bills cropping up around the country are not grassroots responses to constituent concerns but are part of an organized, strategic attack aimed at distraction. Republicans would like us to look away from their disastrous response to COVID-19, virulent racism and their power-hungry eagerness to throw democracy in the trash.
In fact, if you look at HRC’s Equality Index, there are plenty of companies who have scores of 80 and above who have PACs that give lots and lots of money to Michigan policymakers who work very hard to undermine LGBTQ+ rights and protections. These include the Henry Ford Health Systems PAC, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan PAC, General Motors PAC, and the Ford Motor Company PAC.
This is, of course, not news. All of this information is public.
According to Business Insider, many big corporations laying the rainbow lip service on thick have given an even thicker stack of cash to politicians who voted against the Equality Act. This includes Amazon, Walmart, and McDonald’s.
An Amazon spokesperson told Business Insider that giving money to lawmakers “does not mean we agree with any individual or political organization 100 percent of the time on every issue, and this includes legislation that discriminates or encourages discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.”
Here’s what I hear: “If electing candidates who are anti-union and anti-tax will help us keep our wages low and our shareholder payouts high (and help Jeff Bezos ride in a spaceship), then that’s our priority, even if these candidates hate you and your family and pass legislation that dehumanizes and harms LGBTQ+ people.”
And I know some folks are going to say, hey, it’s just business! But my identity, my wife of 20+ years, our son, our civil rights, our humanity? That’s not transactional. That’s my life.
Don’t expect me to be won over simply by a Pride flag on your Twitter feed. It’s a nice gesture, but that’s all it is. And if you’re giving money to anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers, then that gesture might as well be a middle finger.