Can’t we all get along? Alaska Airlines employees won’t be marching in Seattle’s gay Pride Parade this summer because the parade cut an exclusive sponsorship deal with rival Delta.
Editor’s note: On Wednesday afternoon, Seattle Pride announced that Alaska Airlines employees could represent their company in the June 26 Pride Parade. For the latest developments, go here.
Steve Poynter, 58, is gay and has been going to Seattle’s annual gay-pride parade since it first started when he was a teenager, back in the 1970s.
One year, he recalls, he felt something shift. Some Budweiser trucks showed up.
“I just remember thinking, wow, that’s the first moment anyone looked at us in the gay community and saw money,” he says.
Well, you’ve come a long way. All the way to the Great Airline Gay Sponsorship Skirmish of 2016, which has left some local gay workers feeling left out of a parade they once saw as their own.
For more than a decade, Poynter has been part of a large group of gay and lesbian Alaska Airlines employees who have marched in the Seattle parade. Some years they wore flight-attendant uniforms. In others they drove around in an old blue VW van stenciled with the company logo.
Last year the group was 50-strong, some wearing pilot’s hats and toting a banner that read “The LGBT community has come so far. Let us fly you the rest of the way. Alaska Airlines/gay travel.”
You won’t see the hometown airline this year, though. That’s because its rival, Delta, just secured a three-year sponsorship deal for Pride Parade 2016 that excludes Alaska employees from marching if they are identified by the name “Alaska Airlines” or branded with any corporate logos.
“Our employee group can be in the parade, but not identified as working for Alaska Airlines or wearing Alaska T-shirts or any branding,” said Kevin Larson, vice president of the Gay, Lesbian, Other and Bisexual Employees (GLOBE) group, representing about 300 workers at Alaska.
So they can march, but only as a blob of unidentified workers?
“We can’t have them promoting Alaska Airlines when Delta bought the category sponsorship,” said Colin Bishop, a public-relations spokesperson for the Seattle Pride Parade. “That would be free marketing. When T-Mobile’s in there, we don’t have groups marching from AT&T or Verizon.”
A spokesperson for Alaska, Bobbie Egan, said that when Alaska was a sponsor in the past it had arrangements for placement in the parade’s marketing materials. But it didn’t bar rival airlines from being in the parade.
In fact, in the past, employee groups from both Delta and Alaska have paraded in full company regalia, seemingly without incident.
“We decided that given these restrictions, we would celebrate that weekend in different ways, at different events,” Egan said.
Bishop said the parade had also offered an exclusivity deal to Alaska, but then “Delta swooped in and got it.” Kapow! (As an aside, you know how executives for Delta and Alaska keep denying there’s any tension between the two airlines — that they aren’t really at war over Seattle? They can’t even get along for a gay parade!)
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But back to the parade. Isn’t the whole point of it supposed to be inclusivity?
“Shame on Delta Air Lines and Seattle Pride for doing exactly the opposite of what the event is about (bringing people together and allowing them to show pride and allowing businesses to show pride in their employees’ lifestyles etc),” wrote an Alaska flight attendant, Jarod McNeill, on Facebook.
Said Poynter, also a flight attendant: “It’s just sad. I feel like Seattle Pride has lost its way.”
Or maybe there’s another spin to be put on all this. The parade started as an act of countercultural defiance, to honor the famed 1969 riots at New York’s Stonewall Inn. Seattle first had a “Gay-In” at Seattle Center in 1974 on the same date as Stonewall, and in later years that morphed into our bacchanalia of a parade with the Dykes on Bikes, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and all the rest.
As one Gay-In participant in 1975 told the newspaper the Seattle Sun, it was a chance to take to the streets and say: ‘Hey, look! We’re not an isolated group of perverts. We’re a community.’ ”
Well, now corporate behemoths are kicking each other in the tail fins to cater to the once-marginalized community.
In America, you know you’ve finally achieved a measure of full equality when your countercultural events are just as sold out to the highest corporate bidder as everybody else’s.