Georgia businesses are doubling down on supporting Pride amidst LGBTQ culture wars

The effects of culture wars have been felt by local LGBTQ-owned and LGBTQ-friendly small businesses as the Atlanta Pride Festival approaches on Oct. 14-15. But Atlanta-based corporations have largely continued their support of Atlanta Pride and other LGBTQ events. (Lawrence Chen)

In recent years, some businesses have changed their approach to displaying their support for Pride celebrations. On the corporate level just this year, Target and Bud Light have faced boycotts for their efforts to appeal to LGBTQ customers, then faced criticism for backpedaling on that support.

More than 3,000 Starbucks employees in over 150 locations nationwide — including one in Atlanta — went on strike in June after the union claimed the company wasn’t allowing some stores to decorate for Pride month.

The effects of these culture wars have been felt by local LGBTQ-owned and LGBTQ-friendly small businesses as the Atlanta Pride Festival approaches on Oct. 14-15.

LGBTQ Georgia business owners have faced threats

Chris Lugo says that being a business that supports Pride can come with safety concerns.

“If you have a very visible storefront, and especially if you are unabashedly expressing your queer or LGBTQ-plus identity, you have to take precautions,” said Lugo, the executive director of the OUT Georgia Business Alliance. Formerly the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the alliance serves the LGBTQ and allied business community.

“APD and the city of Atlanta put on an active shooter training,” he said.

And threats of violence against the LGBTQ community are intensifying, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

“We’re also seeing some of our small business members who are exercising hesitance about being an out LGBTQ queer business, about hanging that Pride flag in their window for the store,” said Lugo. “We’ve had a couple of members that have had threats of violence.”

Meanwhile, there are legal and legislative battles over the rights of transgender people being fought. Seventeen states, including Georgia, have enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming care for minors.

This has left many companies questioning if it’s worth it to support Pride.

Around 300 different businesses and community groups will be in the Atlanta Pride Parade on Sunday, Oct. 15. Along the parade route, upwards of 100,000 people are expected to be watching. (Lawrence Chen)

Corporate sponsors, individual donors power Atlanta Pride Festival

The 2023 Atlanta Pride Festival will feature more than 80 sponsors and businesses from all across the metro area. As threats against the LGBTQ community and its supporters persist, some Georgia-based companies are continuing to support the celebration. 

“It’s really a testament to Atlanta being a city that really wants to welcome businesses and really embraces diversity,” said Chris McCain, the newly-named executive director of the Atlanta Pride Committee.

McCain says the Atlanta Pride festival is powered by the support of corporate sponsors and individual donors who make gifts of varying sizes. Anyone attending the Pride festival or the parade will see all of the corporate sponsors on display. Many make contributions toward different aspects of the festival and the parade.

Campaigns that were once seen as low-risk are now drawing critiques and calls for boycotts from people who oppose gay and transgender rights, creating a situation that could affect a business’s sales. But when companies decide to back away, as opposed to handling the negative public response to their campaign, it could distance them from the demographic they were trying to reach.

“We’ve had a few corporate sponsors that haven’t returned this year … we haven’t seen a significant dropoff this year, which I’m very grateful for,” said McCain.

He says that around 300 different businesses and community groups will be in the parade. Along the parade route, he expects upwards of 100,000 people to be watching.

This year’s Atlanta Pride Parade takes place on Sunday, Oct. 15 at noon. (Lawrence Chen)

Coca-Cola, Delta and Atlanta Hawks return to Atlanta Pride Parade

Some notable local brands, like the Coca-Cola Company, Delta Air Lines and the Atlanta Hawks, are returning sponsors for the Atlanta Pride parade. Coca-Cola and Delta in particular have the highest level of sponsorship of Atlanta Pride, and their groups in the parade always number in the several hundreds.

Coca-Cola has taken part in the parade for over two decades, according to a spokesperson.

“We will join the Atlanta Pride Parade in 2023, with our employees marching alongside their friends and families,” they told WABE. “Coca-Cola is a beverage that celebrates everyone, including the LGBTQ+ community. We participate in Pride events all over the country, and our longstanding history of supporting the community stems from our commitment to supporting inclusion.”

Delta Air Lines echoed Coca-Cola’s sentiments.

“At Delta, we continue to take meaningful strides in our efforts to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment, which includes actively supporting respect and safety for Delta employees and customers who identify as LGBTQ+,” a spokesperson said. “However, we also recognize that there is still more work to be done, and we remain committed to creating spaces where all are welcomed and encouraged to be their authentic selves both at work and in the community.”

London-based IHG Hotels & Resorts has its Americas region headquarters in Atlanta and has roughly 2,200 employees.

“Celebrating and supporting our LGBTQ+ community, including our support of the Atlanta Pride Festival, aligns with our company purpose and is something we’ve done for many years,” a spokesperson said. “In fact, IHG has supported Atlanta Pride since 2008 and supports similar Pride celebrations in Mexico as well as London, where IHG is based.”

Camye Mackey is the chief people and diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena.

“For those team members that are part of the LGBTQI+ community, it provides them with a sense of pride,” she said.

Mackey says that in 2015, the Atlanta Hawks were the first professional sports team in Atlanta to enter a float in the annual Pride Parade.

“I do feel prideful for working for an organization that so strongly stands behind the importance of diversity and puts programs and initiatives and sponsorship around events and activities and works to support this community,” she said.

Other Atlanta-based corporations sponsoring Atlanta Pride this year include Mailchimp, Cox, Norfolk Southern, Georgia Power and UPS.

The Atlanta Pride Festival starts on Oct. 14, with the parade taking place on Oct. 15, stepping off at noon from the Atlanta Civic Center MARTA Station.

Patrick Saunders contributed to this report.