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Corporate sponsorships of LGBT pride parades on the rise

Friday, June 27, 2014
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In this June 8, 2014, photo, American Express workers carry giant, cutout letters that spelled, “Love=Love,” the theme of the of the gay pride parade, in Salt Lake City. Rick Bowmer, AP

In this June 8, 2014, photo, American Express workers carry giant, cutout letters that spelled, “Love=Love,” the theme of the of the gay pride parade, in Salt Lake City.

In Salt Lake City, American Express Co. workers carried giant letters that spelled, “Love=Love,” the theme of the parade. JPMorgan Chase marchers wore T-shirts that said, “just be you.” A Budweiser’s semi-truck festooned with rainbow flags drove slowly through the parade, honking its horns.

At the 43rd Motor City Pride Festival in Detroit, banners were adorned with corporate logos, including those of General Motors, Ford, Comerica bank, Kroger and Whole Foods Market. Delta Air Lines employees handed out day packs, luggage tags and the same cookies that passengers get.

“They’re recognizing that there’s a loyal, reliable customer base,” said Gregory Varnum of Equality Michigan, a group leading the fight for same-sex marriage rights in the state. “Advertising to the LGBT community is working. They wouldn’t keep coming if it wasn’t working.”

The purchasing power of the U.S. gay and lesbian population was estimated to be $830 billion last year, up from $610 billion in 2005, according to a study by Witeck-Combs Communications, a marketing firm specializing in the gay marketplace.

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Some years ago, Ford resisted a pushback from the American Family Association against its support of gay groups, Varnum said.

There have been no reports of organized boycotts against companies. Overstock.com, which was a first-time sponsor with a float in the Utah parade this year, has seen a bit of criticism in Facebook posts but no coordinated boycott, said Stormy Simon, the company president.

“It was important for us to show the support in the civil rights movement that every person is equal,” Simon said.

The number of corporate sponsors and cash donations has doubled in the last seven years for the Utah festival. This year, cash donations reached $97,300, with much of that coming from 36 corporate donors, said Jen Parsons Soran, sponsorship director for the Utah Pride Festival.

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