SALT LAKE CITY — In between muscular men in speedos gyrating to thumping dance music and drag queens decked out in formal gowns, Salt Lake City’s gay pride parade also featured a few more-conventional participants: Some of America’s most well-known companies.
From Starbucks to eBay to Macy’s, the increasing visibility of corporations at the parade in Utah and at others across the country in recent years comes as same-sex marriage bans fall in the courts and polls show greater public acceptance of gay marriage.
In that climate, companies are finding that the benefits of sponsorship outweigh the risks of staying away, giving them a chance to make a statement in support of diversity and use it to help recruit and retain top talent who want to work for a business that supports LGBT rights.
“We understand there are people who might have different points of view on that,” said spokesman Michael Palese at Chrysler, which has been a sponsor of the Motor City Pride Festival and Parade in Detroit for years and became a primary backer this spring.
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“We respect their point of view as long as they respect ours,” Palese said.
This weekend, some of the largest gay pride events are scheduled, including ones in Seattle, New York, San Francisco and Chicago. They come just days after a federal appeals court ruled for the first time that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry.
At many companies, support for pride parades and festivals is being fueled by internal Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) councils who are given small budgets and freedom to spend that money where they choose.
The continued transformation of the parades from small, defiant, sexually daring protests to family-friendly, mainstream celebrations has been on full display this summer as new companies join businesses that have been supporting the cause for years.
“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.
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.
Some longtime festivalgoers have bristled at how mainstream and corporate the parades have become, but Nick Morris of Utah said he welcomed them because the corporations are showing acceptance of the gay community.
“We need to be open and willing to accept them as they’ve accepted us,” he said.