Corporate greed rears its ugly head just in time for Seattle’s 2016 LGBTQ Pride festivities. The Seattle Times’ columnist Danny Westneat broke the story Tuesday in his column, calling it “The Great Airline Gay Sponsorship Skirmish of 2016”
LGBTQ employees of Alaska Airlines are upset by the news they will not be allowed to march/participate in this year’s Seattle Pride Parade on Sunday, June 26 in downtown Seattle. Alaska Airlines has long been a supporter and sponsor of Seattle Pride but rival Delta Airlines is keen to expand its share of the much sought after LGBTQ market and outbid Alaska to win an exclusive three year sponsorship deal with Seattle Pride. The deal gives Delta the exclusive rights to be the sole airline represented in the parade and would exclude any other airline from participating in any capacity…which would include banning LGBTQ employee groups from marching while wearing or displaying any airline corporate branding or logos.
Obviously, the 300 members of Alaska’s Globe (Gay, Lesbian, Other and Bisexual Employees) group are hurt and angry that they won’t be allowed to participate as a group in this year’s parade. Seattle’s hometown airline has supported Pride festivities for many years with generous amounts of corporate funding as well as employee participation. Many of those local employees have taken to social media to vent their frustration with Seattle Pride.
But, Seattle Pride, the non-profit formerly known as “Seattle Out and Proud” has turned a deaf ear to their protests.
“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.”
But, Alaska responded with this:
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.
This is just the latest example of poor leadership and poor community outreach on the part of Seattle Pride but it’s just part of their history of bad management and planning that has stretched back for more than the last decade. They bungled the transition of moving Pride from Capitol Hill to Downtown and Seattle Center, a disastrous endeavor that enraged the community and plunged the organization into a debt hole they only just recovered from in the last couple years. Fortunately, Seattle Pride gave up producing the Pride Festival which was taken over by Egan Orion and renamed Seattle PrideFest which turned into a spectacular success.
Despite the fact Seattle Pride only have a parade to produce each year, it still fumbles its way though handling that event and an annual Pride Picnic two weeks before Pride Sunday. Other seasonal events produced by the group have been canceled, mostly due to poor attendance/bad planning/poor marketing. And, in the last two years under the leadership of current President Eric Bennett, the renamed group has alienated the LGBTQ media in Seattle to concentrate on making deals with mainstream media including Encore Media/City Arts who produced their official Pride Guide in 2015 and will do so this year as well. Chuck Zimmerman, one time sponsorship director for Seattle Pride, is apparently still advising Seattle Pride; they have their board meetings at Zimmerman’s Northwest Polite Society offices on Capitol Hill. Zimmerman is also married to Marty Griswold, the former Director of Business & Community Development at Encore Media who left that company in March of this year.
Bennett has also come under criticism for not inviting popular Seattle drag star Mama Tits back to host this year’s parade at its Westlake Park main stage. Mama Tits, aka Brian Daniel Peters earned worldwide recognition and praise after the 2014 Pride Parade when anti-gay protesters attempted to block the start of the event. Tits/Peters stood up to the protesters and the resulting video of the incident drew millions of views on YouTube. He returned to host the 2015 parade but was told earlier this year by Bennett and the Seattle Pride board that he was not being asked back to host the 2016 parade…they were “going in a different direction”.
Bennett and the Board subsequently hired two other drag personalities, popular local entertainer DonnaTella Howe and Cherry Sur Bete, a drag performer who now lives in Los Angeles. We suppose Cherry having to fly in from LA is “a different direction” but we’re confused as to why you would fire a popular local HERO only two years after the event that put Seattle Pride on the map…it seems odd.
But, this latest transgression isn’t “odd”….it’s an outrageously greedy attempt to exclude queer people from participating as a group representing a gay friendly company that has supported Seattle Pride for many, many years. It also raises questions on whether it’s even legal to bar anyone from participating based on attire. Isn’t the Seattle Pride Parade a “political march” espousing free speech? Is denying participation in a free speech march even legal? Or, ethical?
We do know one thing…it’s embarrassing and frankly, it’s the last straw.
It’s time to dump the organization known as Seattle Pride. It’s time to once again have ONE organization plan and produce both the Parade and the Festival. Seattle PrideFest has done an exemplary job of producing the festival…it’s time to disband Seattle Pride/Seattle Out and Proud once and for all and to unite the parade and festival as one event with one group behind it.
We call for the resignation of Eric Bennett and the entire Board of Seattle Pride. Seattle Pride Parade 2016 needs to be their final produced event and steps should be taken immediately after this year’s parade to transition the rights to produce the Parade to Seattle PrideFest. It’s the correct thing to do.
In the meanwhile, Delta Airlines needs to do the RIGHT thing and amend their contract with Seattle Pride. One corporation cannot and should not be able to dictate who can or cannot march in a Pride parade. If Delta Airlines wants our Queer Dollars then they need to support ALL queer people regardless of where they work. Fifty people marching down the street in Alaska Airlines uniforms/logos isn’t going to hurt them.
But, if those people AREN’T allowed to march down the street, their absence IS going to make a lot of LGBTQ people in Seattle think twice before booking a ticket on Delta. “The Great Airline Gay Sponsorship Skirmish of 2016” could ultimately blow up in Delta’s face.
Queer Pride shouldn’t be about “exclusivity” or corporate dollars calling the shots.
It should be about inclusion and unity.