This is the month we are surrounded by rainbows, a symbol of diversity within the LGBTQIA+ community and of hope – and a reminder that love is love. During Pride Month, honored by Presidential proclamation as a “movement that has grown stronger, more vibrant, and more inclusive with every passing year,” we also get to pat ourselves on the back for being more inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community.
That is, if we truly are.
Pride Month is a hard-won victory for the LGBTQIA+ community, a victory that required decades of direct action and elections, as well as enduring murder and persecution. Over the past few years, though, the gains of the movement have apparently been too much for the “status quo.” Pride has become a prime target in today’s culture wars.
Waffling Has Great Risks
Pride is under attack, and companies appear unsure of how to react. One of the most visible episodes involved Anheuser-Busch and its popular Bud Light beer.
It started with a Bud Light-sponsored post by influencer Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender woman, which ignited anti-transgender backlash and calls for a boycott. Anheuser-Busch took a page out of the playbook of former Disney CEO Bob Chapek and waffled in voicing support for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Anheuser-Busch’s stock dropped more than 20 percent in the process, with both sides angry and having lost respect for the Bud Light brand. The beverage giant also lost its top ranking on the Human Rights Campaign’s index of companies that support LGBTQIA+ equality last month.
Target has taken a slightly different tactic, with soft capitulation. It’s been trying to walk a fine line, but could easily stumble.
Over the years, Target has enjoyed a reputation for supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. However, complaints and confrontations with employees in some stores led the retailer to pull some products in May and move Pride Month displays to the back of stores in certain locations in the South. In a statement, Target said, “Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.”
In the next breath, though, Target also said it continued to support the LGBTQIA+ community and promised to be “standing with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year.” However, putting these displays in the back of the store – even if it’s only one location – rewards bullies and reinforces feelings of exclusion. To be “in the back” is, by definition, to be excluded. Going forward, eyes will be on Target to see if the retailer stands by its diversity commitments in terms of suppliers and merchandising, or if today’s divisive political environment weakens its stance.
Bullies Don’t Represent Most Customers
There’s an important lesson here for business leaders everywhere. One of the most important jobs is to keep your business open. Allowing a minority of people – no matter how vocal – to bully you is not how you do that. Negotiating with those who hate is bad business.
If you still need convincing, consider this: Nearly 8 out of 10 Americans support LGBTQIA+ rights, including laws that would provide protection against discrimination in jobs, housing and public access. Although this issue is a political hot button, it’s also important to recognize that, while 90 percent of Democrats in a recent survey favor protection against discrimination for LGBTQIA+ people, so do 66 percent of Republicans.
Allowing yourself to waffle on issues during a political culture war is poor leadership. So, what do you do? When people ask, “What are the steps?” don’t guess at it. There’s just one step: Support the LGBTQIA community – and don’t negotiate with those who hate. Get this right, and you get the rest of it right.
Any weakening of support for the LGBTQIA+ community will not age well for you. Your personal reputation and your company brand will suffer because of that, so don’t do it.
People who can’t find room in their hearts to acknowledge the humanity and human rights of others they don’t understand are not your future employees – or customers, for that matter. Our LGBTQIA+ community is here, and it’s up to all of us to help America get used to it.
Malia Lazu is a lecturer in the Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management, CEO of The Lazu Group and former Eastern Massachusetts regional president and chief experience and culture officer at Berkshire Bank.