If you were wondering why numerous businesses and almost every major corporation changed their logo on June 1 to reflect a rainbow theme, it’s because we’re in the middle of Pride month.
Since the late 1970s, the rainbow flag has been a symbol of pride for the LGBTQ community, and each June marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising, which took place 52 years ago in New York City. In June 1969, members of the LGBTQ community fought back against police who were raiding the gay bar — a now-historical act that marked the beginning of a decades-long effort for basic rights for LGBTQ people.
This year, several cities in West Michigan — including Holland, Grand Haven and Lowell — have recognized Pride month in a more public way than ever before. Many local Pride festivals were rescheduled or held virtually this year because of COVID-19, but the city of Lowell carried on and held its first Pride event ever. As well, officials in Holland and Grand Haven issued proclamations recognizing June as LGBTQ Pride month for the first time in their respective cities.
“The response to this was overwhelmingly positive,” Holland Mayor Nathan Bocks said of the Pride proclamation he and the City Council issued on June 2. “We wanted to send a really clear message that everyone is welcomed and valued.”
Holland also recently passed an anti-discrimination ordinance in August 2020 that codified protections for the LGBTQ community on a local level. It was a significant shift from 2011 when a similar anti-discrimination ordinance was voted down by the City Council and then-Mayor Nancy DeBoer.
“We recognize we’re a stronger community when everyone feels welcome in the community and we can have everyone contributing and making this a strong fabric of Holland,” Bocks said.
The Grand Haven City Council has voiced support for Pride month in the past, but this is the first time it has passed an official resolution, said Grand Haven Mayor Robert Monetza.
“It’s important because it elevates the consciousness of it,” Monetza said. “These are members of our community, our neighbors, and productive and important citizens, but they suffer in silence in many ways. It’s important to elevate and recognize and accept these folks as our fellow citizens.”
However, gestures from businesses to display a rainbow flag or change a social media picture are increasingly criticized as the bare minimum. Large corporations like American Airlines, Wells Fargo and Walmart have also been criticized for making Pride month social media posts while also contributing financially to anti-LGBTQ causes or politicians.
While the “rainbow washing” in full force this month has been exhausting, it is different and more meaningful when small businesses — particularly in smaller, conservative towns — put out a rainbow flag this month, said Nicole Lintemuth, a Lowell resident who organized the city’s first Pride event.
“When you’re in a small community, you know the people who own these businesses,” Lintemuth said. “This is the person you live down the street from and work with. It’s easy for a corporate board to slap a rainbow on their social media, versus a store that has a lot of respect in the community that has been around for years and says, ‘Hey, we’re going to recognize this.’”
By organizing Lowell Pride 2021 Better Together, Lintemuth intended to show that there’s an LGBTQ presence even in a small community.
“I live here currently, and have been here for a little over four years,” Lintemuth said. “In my childhood I was in the U.P. in a very small town, so I know what it’s like to grow up in the closet.”
While the 2,500 people who attended the Lowell Pride event exceeded Lintemuth’s expectations, she also knew the area has a big LGBTQ presence.
“It was super exciting to see, and especially after last year when a lot of us were homebound,” Lintemuth said. “It was such an amazing day and there were so many families there and so many kids in Lowell that will get to see this Pride happening and allies and adults around them that support them.”
Inclusion attracts talent
Aside from criticism over “rainbow washing,” though, business advocates in recent years have increasingly recognized LGBTQ inclusion as imperative to retaining and attracting talent. That’s why some of the largest companies in Michigan — names like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Kellogg Co., DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, Whirlpool Corp. and Herman Miller Inc., to name a few — have endorsed a ballot initiative to expand the state’s civil rights law to include protections for LGBTQ individuals.
“As economic developers, we ensure current and future generations want to live and work in our vibrant economy,” Lakeshore Advantage President Jennifer Owens said in a statement. “Emerging workers have choices to make about where they want to live. Welcoming all people and being inclusive is the right thing to do for our community’s business growth and talent attraction.”
Bocks agrees that community opposition to LGBTQ equality ultimately comes with a price.
“If you can’t respect the LGBTQ community just because it’s the right thing to do, there is a strong economic price for that as well,” Lintemuth said. “We in the LGBTQ community know the places that are safe and the ones that are not, and the ones that are silent.”