The Business Case for Pride

By, Bob Witeck

Ten years ago, when I wrote about America’s emerging gay economy in my book, Business Inside Out, I described the signs of businesses past that hung in shops, hotels, restaurants and other public accommodations: “No Jews,” “No Negroes,” “No Irish,” or “No Chinese,” for instance.

Few signs—if any—declared, “No Homosexuals.”

There was no need. It was then widely acknowledged that shopkeepers and business owners could ban lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) customers and visitors at any time.

For example, for many years in New York City and throughout the U.S., the police routinely harassed, rounded up, and arrested patrons at gay bars. They did this as a way of keeping LGBT people intimidated, docile, and out of sight.

For many who lived closeted lives, this harassment could be as painful as it was routine. That is, until the Stonewall Uprising in June of 1969 when the patrons of the Stonewall Bar resisted and fought back—for the first time in history—and filled the streets with pride.

The following June, and every year since, LGBT Americans and their families and friends celebrate the long overdue spirit of confidence, honesty, and yes, pride, that marked those events. Choosing visibility, openness, and self-esteem made it possible for many to come out of the closet to their families, friends, and neighbors. Why not mark this proud rebirth for future generations?

Rather than shun or ban gay customers, local businesses, marketers, and shops instead declared their pride too—by opening their doors to everyone. Pride season became the ideal and upbeat venue for many businesses to put out their welcome mats along with their rainbow flags, the popularized banner that symbolizes LGBT values and community.

Pride events and celebrations today are as much a part of the Commonwealth of Virginia as they are in every other community around the world.

How many LGBT people attend Pride celebrations? It’s never easy to count. Simply put, LGBT people come from all races, ethnicities, and social backgrounds. They are as diverse as any other segment in America. Same-sex partners and spouses also have been counted in 99.1% of all U.S. counties according to the U.S. Census.

Pride celebrations are especially business-friendly given the thousands of visitors they attract to a community or city center. It is impossible now to see a Pride parade or festival that does not include many popular brands including American Airlines, Bank of America, Coca Cola, Google, Marriott, and many more.

These are familiar and global brands that not only are competing for every single customer they can find—but also hosting floats and brigades made up of their own LGBT employees, families and friends. In recent years, many churches and congregations have begun to host booths and programs at Pride celebrations to promote their universal welcome to worship.

As anyone who has ever experienced a Pride festival or parade realizes, they are not just for gay people any more. The throngs of participants and observers today look more and more like a cross-section of the entire community. Countless families and friends, along with eye-popping tourists, enjoy the unique flavors, diverse sights, tastes, and entertainment before their eyes.

Pride celebrations take place almost any time of year when the sun is shining, although June is still the most popular month to mark these events. As a native Virginian, experience tells me that whether our state leans Republican or Democratic, we are hungry for the popularity and profit that gay Pride events deliver.

Pride season, of course, is not the end of the story. It is just the beginning. Outside the doors of our state capitol, all of Virginia’s businesses compete aggressively for shareholder value, profits, customers, ideas, resources, and, increasingly, for the best, brightest, and most diverse human talent. We know from our own state’s history that discrimination extracts too high a price for any competitor and explains why leading companies and entrepreneurs take pride in the fact that Virginia is open and welcoming for all.

In 2015, LGBT Virginians have every reason to celebrate with the passage of marriage equality. For the first time, same-sex couples today can marry here at home where we grew up, where we live, work, and raise families. Carry us forward, Virginia, to a community and a marketplace that is truly “open for business” to all.

Bob Witeck is a lifelong Virginian and President of Witeck Communications. He consults with Fortune 500 corporations and nonprofits on LGBT business, public affairs, and communications issues.

Bob Witeck