Corporate sponsors of Pride events also contribute to politicians with anti-LGBTQ leanings: NC Congressman Patrick McHenry, who opposed LGBTQ+ rights, received $10,000 from one major sponsor

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 9, 2024

By Albert Serna Jr.

NC Newsline

Throughout Pride Month, it has become increasingly common for corporations to adorn their websites in rainbow flags, espouse their support for LGBTQ+ rights and try to win over a community that has historically been stereotyped as having a disposable income. But some of those companies still steer big money to groups and politicians who oppose LGBTQ+ rights.

Chief Economist at the Koppa LGBTI+ Economic Power Lab Lee Badgett said that the idea that LGBTQ communities have more money to spend is a misrepresentation of the community as a whole.

“There’s long been an incorrect stereotype about LGBTQ people that they are well off, lots of income, no real financial problems,” Badgett said. “We know that gay and bisexual men and bisexual women in particular tend to have lower earnings than their heterosexual counterparts. Same for transgender and cisgender people, transgender people are earning less.”

Lack of clarity on how politicians and corporations are spending can create a false narrative that a specific corporation or political figure solely aligns with LGBTQ rights, when they may also give to anti-LGBTQ groups. OpenSecrets has found that even corporations that publicly condemn anti-LGBTQ legislation regularly steer tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions to legislators who advanced those bills.

Melissa Michelson, professor of political science at Menlo College, calls this behavior during Pride month a type of “rainbow washing.”

“Politicians engage in rainbow washing for the same reason that corporations do because they want consumers, slash voters, slash potential donors to think well of them. And maybe that means you will donate money to them, or maybe you will consider voting for that,” Michelson told OpenSecrets. “Either way that’s the currency of politics, whether it’s a financial donation or a vote, that’s what every candidate needs.”

Fairweather support

Large donors to Pride events in June have done everything from changing their logos to making posts on social media, but some of their political giving tells a different story.

Delta Air Lines sponsored multiple Pride events in California, New York and Washington, D.C.

The airline’s PAC donated more than $300,000 to Republican candidates, including $8,500 to Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and $5,000 to Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) — both of whom have supported anti-LGBTQ legislation according to GLAAD. Blackburn has been a vocal opponent of gender-affirming care for transgender youth, and Scalise who has a long history of introducing and supporting anti-LGBTQ bills. All Republican Senators who received funds from the PAC received less than 20 from the Human Rights Campaign Congressional scorecard. Many did not reach the double digits.

The airline donated another $45,000 to GOPAC and $10,000 to the dark money group Alliance for American Exceptionalism, both of which work to elect conservatives with records of voting against LGBTQ+ rights at the state and federal level. Mark Green who compared LGBTQ Americans to ISIS, received $5,000 from GOPAC, filings show. GOPAC also gave $5,000 to Michigan State Sen. Tom Barrett whose campaign sent out anti-trans text messages.

Another big sponsor for Pride events across the country is MasterCard, whose PAC also steered more than $100,000 to Republican candidates in 2024, including $10,000 to Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) and $4,000 to Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). Both politicians have openly opposed bills that would protect the rights of LGBTQ individuals, including a vote in 2022 against the Respect for Marriage Act. Republicans who received funds from Mastercard did not pass 60 on the HRC scorecard while Democrats did not score below 90.

Defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton’s corporate PAC contributed almost equally to Republicans and Democrats in 2024, giving more than $100,000 to Republican candidates and $87,000 to Democrats. Some recipients from the defense contractor’s PAC include $4,000 each to Reps. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) and $5,000 to Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.). Calvert has a long history of opposing LGBTQ rights but his views shifted to ostensibly support marriage equality after his district was redrawn to include Palm Springs, a city that has the largest LGBTQ population per capita in the U.S. But in 2023, Calvert voted for the Parents Bill of Rights Act, legislation that would force schools to out transgender students.

Gallagher backed two amendments that would remove protections for transgender people experiencing homelessness in 2019. He also voted against the Equality Act in 2021 which would have explicitly protected LGBTQ people through federal civil rights law. “The Booz Allen PAC makes contributions on a bipartisan basis to U.S. federal congressional candidates,” a spokesperson from Booz Allen said in a statement to OpenSecrets. “The PAC continues to evaluate and execute a giving strategy aligned with our diverse global business, our corporate values, and our interests as a large employer.”

Delta and MasterCard did not respond to requests for comment.

While some companies sponsoring Pride events have made contributions to groups and politicians with records of opposing LGBTQ rights, it is noteworthy that the organizations publicly support Pride because that is not something that historically happened, Michelson told OpenSecrets.

“I don’t remember 10 years ago that you’d walk into Target and there were rainbows everywhere,” Michelson said. “In the same way that corporations are responding to this new kind of national focus on LGBTQ rights I would imagine that that’s paralleled in the political arena.”

That support, however, isn’t without its own issues. Earlier this year, the national brand Target announced that it would be limiting its pride section after conservative pushback on pride-themed items and bathing suits for transgender people.

Despite the pullback on pride merchandise, Target has still been a corporate sponsor for a number of pride events around the country. How much they’ve donated in those sponsorships is unclear.

It has become common for various groups like airlinesbig banks and defense contractors to sponsor stages or portions of Pride events, which have historically worked to offset the cost of hosting the events.

“Every June, every corporation, every politician, everybody wants to say, ‘I’m supportive of LGBTQ rights, I’m an ally of the community,’” Michelson said. “Maybe you never hear anything from them about issues facing the community the rest of the year, but suddenly in June, they’re very concerned and very supportive.”

Albert Serna Jr. is the 2024 Roy W. Howard Investigative Fellow at OpenSecrets. He graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in journalism and queer ethnic studies. Contact him at