The problem wasn’t just that Amazon wanted Seattle Pride to rename their march to "Seattle Pride Parade Presented by Amazon.” And it wasn’t just that Amazon wanted to be mentioned in all promotional material, with their logo larger than any other sponsor’s. It also wasn’t just that they wanted all Pride volunteers to wear shirts bearing an Amazon logo, that they wanted the Amazon logo displayed along the route, or that they wanted a company representative to be guaranteed time to deliver a speech at the march.
The problem is that the company was offering to pay Seattle Pride $100,000 for all of those concessions after recently donating nearly five times that amount to homophobic politicians.
“There was initial shock at the level of things they were asking for,” says Krystal Marx, Executive Director of Seattle Pride.
Amazon last donated to Seattle Pride in 2019, when they gave $11,500, according to Marx. But in January of 2022, the company approached march organizers with a radical proposal — increasing their previous sponsorship nearly tenfold in exchange for an unprecedented level of publicity.
“That’s not something we do,” Marx says. “We don’t attach corporate names to the parade.” Still, she brought the proposal to Seattle Pride’s board of directors to get their response.
(To head off any confusion: There are numerous Pride organizations in Seattle, each one independent from the others. Seattle Pride organizes the June parade as well as year-round programming; PrideFest is the street fair on Capitol Hill and Seattle Center; Capitol Hill Pride is a small neighborhood-scale gathering in June; Alki Beach Pride is in West Seattle; White Center Pride is in White Center; the Pride Foundation helps LGBTQ+ organizations with funding throughout the Northwest United States. I’m sure there are others I’m missing.)
The company’s proposal was met with skepticism. It’s no secret that many Pride-sponsoring companies also sponsor politicians who vote against equal rights: During the 2020 election cycle, Amazon gave $450,000 to politicians who voted against The Equality Act; Walmart gave $400,000; AT&T gave $1 million. Here in Washington, Amazon recently spent $11,000 to sponsor elected officials who pursued anti-LGBTQ legislation, according to NBC News. In addition, the company’s Smile program channeled money to dozens of anti-LGBTQ+ nonprofits. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has contributed to homophobic politicians in the past.
“Amazon engages with policymakers and regulators on a wide range of issues that affect our business, customers, and employees,” wrote an Amazon spokesperson who asked not to be named. “That does not mean we agree with any individual or political organization 100 percent of the time on every issue.”
Does that mean the company would donate to politicians who openly espouse extremist views? They wouldn’t rule it out. The Amazon spokesperson did not respond to a question about whether there are any political stances that Amazon would consider disqualifying for receiving donations.
That Amazon is unwilling to express any moral guidelines for their political activity has not gone unnoticed. Seattle Pride’s board voted unanimously to reject the company’s proposal and is also working on instituting new minimum standards for Pride sponsors. They say those requirements will cover issues that range from political activity to coverage for gender-affirming health care to responsiveness to reports of discrimination.
In previous years, Marx says, “we had it as an option. ‘We’d like you to do this.’ This year, if they don’t do it, they’re in violation of the contract.”
According to Marx, corporate sponsors that want to be allowed to participate in Pride will need to demonstrate that they don’t work against the LGBTQ+ community during the rest of the year. She’s reached out to over a hundred other Pride organizations to recommend that they implement similar policies.
“It’s dangerous when you say, ‘we’re going to accept money from a corporation that gives money to people who are seeking to hurt us,’” she says.