On culture and diversity in corporate America.

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May 30, 2023

Happy Pride Month. We need to talk.

June is typically a rainbow-filled month meant to celebrate the LBGTQ+ community. But this year, it’s become a time to reflect on how far we’ve come—or haven’t come.

As anti-LGBTQ legislation picks up steam, major brands are getting swept into the ugly fray. First, a noisy boycott of Bud Light bubbled up after Anheuser Busch sent an online influencer named Dylan Mulvaney a six-pack. Mulvaney, who is trans, posted a video of herself celebrating her first year of womanhood, igniting an online backlash.

Now, Target is under fire for its popular Pride merchandise. Anti-LGBTQ agitators have aggressively confronted customers and harassed Target employees. If it feels like a campaign of hate, it’s because it is.

Rightwing commentator Matt Walsh has spent the last few weeks saying the quiet part out loud, first on Twitter and then on his popular Spotify show. “The goal is to make ‘pride’ toxic for brands. If they decide to shove this garbage in our face, they should know they’ll pay a price. It won’t be worth whatever they think they’ll gain,” he posted. “First Bud Light and now Target. Our campaign is making progress. Let’s keep it going.”

Target pulled some of its stores’ merchandise, citing employee safety. “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,” the company said in a statement. One LGBTQ brand creator, who runs a London-based startup selling “art and accessories for the proud, loud, and colorful,” was upset but relieved after the retailer pulled his merchandise in light of the protests. It was “the biggest opportunity of my career,” Erik Carnell told CNN. But it was just too frightening, he said.

While the majority of Americans oppose anti-trans legislation, support is slowly rising. Some 43% say they support laws that criminalize gender-related medical care, which is particularly devastating to trans youth. What would help a lot would be the passage of the Equality Act, federal legislation that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. After years of debate, more than 500 major U.S. employers now back the legislation as part of the Business Coalition for the Equality Act. So far, it hasn’t made much difference. Part of the reason may be cynical politics as usual—many companies also support the politicians who vote to block the bill.

But part of the reason may simply be inertia and that not enough companies have been forced to examine how they support their increasingly vulnerable LGBTQ employees, customers, and community members. It’s time to make this a Pride Month that matters.

Ellen McGirt

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ruth Umoh.



On Point

The countdown to the end of affirmative action has begun
The Supreme Court will rule on race-conscious affirmative action at the university level later in June. Most experts expect the conservative majority will rule to overturn it, which is likely to put inclusion efforts in corporate spaces in jeopardy. My colleagues Trey Williams and Paige McGlauflin have kicked off Fortune’s coverage of the decision with an essential look at the mood inside inclusion offices. “DEI professionals Fortune spoke with don’t believe it’s overblown to see the looming Supreme Court decision as a time bomb,” they write.

A command center designed to track rising antisemitism
The Secure Community Network is the closest thing Jewish organizations have to an always-on security force. Started by the Jewish Federations of North America after 9/11, the Network has grown dramatically over the last five years, with 75 military-trained members and other security experts stationed around the country assessing local threats and preparing to alert synagogues, schools, and community centers if an attack is imminent.
New York Times

On Background

How watermelon became a racist symbol 
The fruit is a summer staple, but in many circles, the association between Black people and watermelon has long been a racist trope. “[T]he stereotype that African Americans are excessively fond of watermelon emerged for a specific historical reason and served a specific political purpose,” says William R. Black, a historian of Civil War era American religion and culture. “Free Black people grew, ate, and sold watermelons, and in doing so made the fruit a symbol of their freedom,” he says. “Southern whites, threatened by Blacks’ newfound freedom, responded by making the fruit a symbol of Black people’s perceived uncleanliness, laziness, childishness, and unwanted public presence.”
The Atlantic

Remembering Operation Wetback 
It was the response to a guest worker program gone wrong, a product of the Eisenhower administration’s attempt to bring some sort of relief to the abuse experienced by Mexican farm laborers, who had decades prior been invited to the U.S. as agricultural workers known as "braceros." Violent white mobs assaulted the workers during the Great Depression. By the 1950s, anti-Mexican sentiment and violence had grown to a fever pitch, fueled partly by fears that every laborer was a Communist in disguise. Eisenhower’s answer was a mass deportation effort known as "Operation Wetback." In the go-to book on the operation, Impossible Subjects, historian Mae Ngai describes deportation ships that were later compared in Congressional reports to “eighteenth-century slave ship[s]” and “penal hell ship[s].” It was horrific. “Some 88 ‘braceros’ died of sunstroke as a result of a round-up that had taken place in 112-degree heat,” she wrote.


Parting words

“I’d like to see the gay revolution get started…If a transvestite doesn’t say, 'I’m gay, and I’m proud, and I’m a transvestite,' then nobody else is going to hop up there and say, 'I’m gay, and I’m proud, and I’m a transvestite' for them.”

Marsha P. Johnson, trans activist

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