Back in May 2013, I sent an editor of a publication a draft of my article which criticized big gay groups, or Gay Inc. which was eventually published on Nation of Change. I was originally going to publish the whole email conversation, but there is no need for that. Rather, it is best to quote what the editor-in-chief said in emails to me.
After three emails, when I had said I was open to change on my piece “about the mainstream LGBTQ movement” including edits, rewrites, etc… and saying I would publish it somewhere else if I did not get a response, the editor responded. Here is what he had to say (bolded parts are emphasized) on May 15, 2013:
Hi Burkely –Sorry to keep you waiting! I’ve been on killer deadline for the last week+ — and it’s not quite over yet. I do have your essay and I’ve spent a bit of time with it, but haven’t made a decision. It would certainly be controversial, given the nature of your critique of “Gay Inc.” It’s the kind of piece that would have to be extremely well-documented and ironclad in its assertions, as I assume it would raise the hackles of the many people who have a vested interest in these orgs. Consquently, I need to spend some more time with the piece before reaching a decision. But I don’t want to hold you up, so I would certainly understand if you decided to shop it elsewhere. I’ll be much freer next week, so please feel free to get in touch then. Thanks for your patience!
At the time, I told this editor that I knew the piece would be controversial but that I could deal with controversy, even publishing a response piece afterwards. Clearly, looking back, the editor did not share my point of view and was concerned about “controversy” and wanted it to be “well-documented” and “ironclad in its assertions.” I sent two more emails to this editor, and he finally responded at the end of May, asking if he had made a decision about my essay. Here is what he said, apologizing for his slow response, on May 31, 2013, saying he had made a decision and “put the issue to rest:”:
Dear Burkely –
Finally put the next issue to rest this AM, so now I can turn my sights to other matters. Apologies for my slowness in getting you an answer on the piece. I think you’ve done some good research and drawn some interesting connections between “Gay Inc.” and the corporate world — which, by the way, is far from a new discovery. The very coinage “Gay Inc.” suggests that many others have complained about corporate involvement in GLBT orgs. But I have a number of substantive concerns about the piece beyond the question of originality: It seems to me the kind of piece that should carefully lay out the evidence without judgment, then ponder what it means to be so dependent on corporate sponsorship, and finally conclude that this has a corrupting influence. Instead, you begin with the judgment that corporate sponsorship — indeed corporations themselves — is bad, so the rest is just backup material. Everyone knows that the major GLBT orgs rely heavily on corporate sponsorship — it’s the way of the world. Another problem is this: while you document lots of cases of corporate sponsorship of mainstream GLBT orgs, I don’t think you’ve made the case that this is ipso facto a terrible thing. Certainly the potential for abuse is there, but I’m sure all of these orgs would tell you that they couldn’t survive without corporate sponsorship. If true, the question becomes whether we’d be better off without them. Another question: is this any different from every other public interest group in America, whether disaster relief or animal rights? I think they all rely on corporate sponsors to some extent — but feel free to prove me wrong. In any case, I think you need to make the argument that the GLBT movement is uniquely corrupted by corporate influence. BTW the companies that tend to sponsor gay orgs — Microsoft, the airlines, etc. — tend to be the ones with the best policies on gay rights. You don’t see Exxon/Mobil as a major sponsor, am I right? I’m just sayin’. So, I will have to pass on the piece as written. As implied in paragraph 3, perhaps there’s an article there based upon your research. It might be useful for our readers to know exactly which companies are sponsoring which organizations. And certainly if you can document any examples of how this influence has affected their actions or policies, that would be of great interest. I guess your complaint is that Gay Inc. doesn’t criticize big corporations for their many sins. But who does? This is America. In any case, why is it up to the GLBT movement to provide this critique? I’ll stop there and let you reply — if you’ve made it this far!
As you can expect, this response made me annoyed and madder, especially when he said that corporate sponsorship of GLBT organizations, as he called them, was “the way of the world” which later was used as the title of my article for Nation of Change. His assertion that certain corporations have “good policies” on gay rights is bull. That ignores the fact that such policies do not make them better corporations but rather more mischievous, I would argue. If other groups are funded by corporate sponsors, they definitely should be criticized too. If I was to find evidence of any corporate sponsor influencing any of the big gay organizations in a direct and a notable way, then I’d have to probably request internal documents or something which they would never give me. As a result, such an endeavor is literally impossible. Despite this, I am glad he praised my research…
At the time, in response to this editor, I said that if corporate sponsorship is the way of the world, it should change and I said that the organizations must be rejected as corporate leeches, just like I said in my article for State of Nature and that since “corporations control and dictate our lives…it seems fair to criticize them.” Months later, he responded with much of his critique still intact, responding to an email I can’t seem to find (bolded parts are my emphasis):
Thanks for your follow-up to our earlier correspondence, with apologies for my very slow reply. There’s not much I can add to my earlier critique of the piece, which still stands. Yes, corporations are powerful and pervasive in our lives — so much so that they are indeed unavoidable in all walks of life. The idea that orgs. like the HRC and Task Force would have no corporate sponsorship is quixotic in this day and age. Your war is with the corporate state, as it used to be called, of which the current gay movement is but one manifestation. But how is the GLBT rights movement more corrupted by corps. than anyone else? Also, for what it’s worth, corps. that sponsor gay orgs invariably have very gay-friendly policies. So it goes. I still think there could be the nub of an article there, but it would require some down-and-dirty research to make it work IMHO.
So, the idea that these organizations could have no corporate sponsorship is silly? Come on. Even though I would not argue that, I would say that there are non-profits and orgs. out there that do good work and don’t have ANY corporate sponsors. To have a corporate sponsor is to be corrupted in and of itself. I don’t see why “down-and-dirty research” is needed to prove that. Once again, who cares if they have “gay-friendly policies.” That type of stuff is just BS and PR to promote themselves as caring about “equality.” In my response to the email at the time, I said that having corporate sponsorship leads to what one can call “manufactured equality” which I argued “won’t address the root causes of discrimination against them and numerous other problems facing them. And I made an even more powerful point: “as long as Gay Inc. has corporate sponsors, they will never push for what LGBTQ people need but rather for corporate-friendly equality.”
I reprint my article which I published on Nation of Change below which hit back at a number of criticisms by the editor. I also welcome comments about what the editor said and what you think about all of this.
Its the Way of the World: Bradley Manning and Gay Inc.
By Burkely Hermann
At a recent DNC fundraiser 56- year old LGBTQ advocate Ellen Sturt heckled Michelle Obama to ask for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to be signed via executive order. This was a simple demand, as she notes in her Washington Post op-ed where she says she could no “longer remain silent.” Although this was brave, what about famed gay whistleblower PFC Bradley Manning? Would he get the same treatment? Glenn Greenwald wrote that Chair of the San Francisco Pride Parade overode the board’s decision declaring that Manning would not be one of the Grand Marshals of the parade while huge corporations like AT&T, Verizon, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo, sponsored the Parade. What he wrote next was a bombshell: “[the] remarkable shift in public opinion on gay equality…is less significant than it seems because…gay equality poses no real threat to elite factions…If anything, it bolsters those power structures.” One must ask: does the cause of gay equality “pose no threat” to the ruling elite?
First one, one must understand, that the LGBTQ rights movement has changed over time. BusinessWeek calls the gay rights movement, “one of the most successful political enterprises in history” because of its contributions in the last 40 years. However, this “enterprise” has led people to worry: lesbian host Ellen DeGeneres is perceived as the mainstream gay perspective, that there is a slow response of the movement to lynching of LGBT people in Honduras, how liberals support equal rights in rhetoric but refuse to support legislation putting it place and finally how from the 1970s on, the movement allied with the Democratic Party while the current “LGBT leadership…abandons…an agenda that stresse[s]…social [and]…economic justice…[like] the Human Rights Campaign [HRC]…ignor[ing] homelessness and poverty altogether.”
From this, I began to look into Gay Inc. Andy Thayer defines this term as encompassing all of the big gay non-profits, from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) to the HRC but I would expand it to include the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Out and Equal Workplace Advocates (Out and Equal), GLAAD, Family Equality Council, and the National Gay and Lesbian Center of Commerce (NGLCC). Also it would includes other groups like the Arcus Foundation, the Gill Foundation, Log Cabin Republicans, Freedom To Marry, Equality Forum, Lesbian Victory Fund, and American Foundation for Equal Rights. Is it the way of the world that major LGBTQ organizations rely heavily on corporate sponsorship?
Before I get into the organizations themselves, as the saying goes, follow the money. The sponsorships of Gay Inc. give a further insight. The banksters who helped plunge the world economy into economic crisis sponsored a number of organizations including the HRC, NGLTF, GLAD, PFLAG, NGLCC, Out and Equal, GLSEN, and GLAAD. As for the companies that are part of the Center for Copyright Information that devised the authoritarian copyright alert system which is commonly called “Six Strikes,” they back Equality Forum, Out and Equal, NGLTF, and GLAAD. There are many other egregious corporate sponsors of the NGLTF, HRC, GLAD, PFLAG, Equality Forum, Family Equality Council, NGLCC, Out and Equal (has 55 sponsors!), GLSEN, and GLAAD (here and here). Some might say that this is no different from any other public interest group in America, but Gay Inc. is uniquely corrupted by the business community.
How do these groups pay back their sponsors? It differs from group to group. The NGLTF inadvertently call for people to vote for Democrats and backed the healthcare “reform” bill while the HRC’s ‘corporate equality index’ praises Corporate America as this year’s report gave the highest ratings possible to some of those who sponsored them! GLAD has a Board of Directors including including former employees of Verizon, HRC, and GlaxoSmithKline while the GLSEN, who came up with the idea of Gay-Straight Alliances, has a Board of Directors comprised of most of their corporate sponsors. Out & Equal tries to help LGBTQ people find jobs has groups on their “LGBTCareerLink” page including BP, Bank of America, GE, Comcast, PNC, and Clorox, half of whom are their sponsors. NGLCC is even worse as they making an effort to make corporate America LGBTQ “certified” and the Equality Forum has a former Comcast CEO on their Board of Governors while their major sponsor is Comcast itself.
The other groups that have less of a roll in Gay Inc. are also corrupted. The Arcus Foundation has a former member of the Rockefeller Foundation, a CNN correspondent, and IBM employee on their Board while the Gill Foundation has similar board members. Freedom To Marry, which wants gay marriage and DOMA repealed, has the vice-president of Amazon.com, and a surrogate speaker for President Obama on their board of directors while they praising Mayor 1% Emanuel, Mayor Bloomberg, and Glenn Beck, as voices for equality! The American Foundation for Equal Rights which claims to want equal rights for all has a board of Directors including the HRC president, and the Chairman of the CATO institute. Other groups just follow along like the Log Cabin Republicans and the Stonewall Democrats which advocate for gay policy in their respective parties while the Lesbian Victory Fund endorses LGBT candidates.
By now, it should be clear that Greenwald was right. I’d say we’d be better off without these groups, just like the Gang Green groups that dominate the mainstream environmental movement. People must remember this is not the way it was supposed to be because the movement itself began with queer sit-ins in 1965 which morphed into a protest rally, not with Stonewall riots in 1968. As Gay Inc., the corporate leeches, has been timid, there is hope: the Gay Liberation Network, which pushes for a grassroots direct action to help LGBTQ people. The corporate leeches must be thrown away and LGBTQ and allies must stand next to each other and push for full liberation not simply policies that promote assimilation like gay marriage and ENDA.
And here is the submission I sent to the editor, which I believe is a bit different, but still good:
Gay Inc., Bradley Manning and corporate power
Yesterday, I was just browsing across twitter and I stumbled across an article by Glenn Greenwald. It explained that the famed whistleblower Bradley Manning was not made one of the Grand Marshals of the San Francisco Pride Parade. He explained that while “even a hint of support for Manning will not be tolerated, there is a long roster of large corporations serving as the event’s sponsors who are welcomed with open arms…[including] AT&T and Verizon…Bank of America…Wells Fargo…Clear Channel…[and] Kaiser Permanente…Even at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, once an iconic symbol of cultural dissent and disregard for stifling pieties, nothing can happen that might offend AT&T and the Bank of America…Thus, while Bradley Manning is persona non grata at SF Pride, illegal eavesdropping telecoms, scheming banks, and hedge-fund purveyors of the nation’s worst right-wing agitprop are more than welcome.” What he wrote next was startling to me. He said that while there has been a “remarkable shift in public opinion on gay equality…this development is less significant than it seems because the cause of gay equality poses no real threat to elite factions or to how political and economic power in the US are distributed. If anything, it bolsters those power structures because it completely and harmlessly assimilates a previously excluded group into existing institutions and thus incentivizes them to accommodate those institutions and adopt their mindset.” This is proved by simply looking at the full list of the parade’s sponsors which includes Bud Light, Virgin Mobile, Toyota, and Hilton Hotels as well. Additionally, President Obama declared in his inaugural address that “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law…for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” but has not taken any concrete steps to even put his ideas into practice because what he said was a bunch of meaningless liberal rhetoric. Greenwald’s observation is what led me to investigate more to see if he was correct.
One needs an informed perspective on the mainstream organizations of the LGBTQ rights movement, which have developed very much over time, becoming subsumed by the establishment. Caleb Castañeda writes that it worrying that the movement is treating Ellen DeGeneres as the mainstream gay perspective, the slow approach of the movement in response to lynching of LGBT people, the irony that in the words of the late Alexander Coleburn that the movement is trying to save the sinking ship of marriage and how in Ron Jacobs’s words that on the “liberal side of the US political spectrum one hears words in support of equal rights only to be all to often followed by a refusal to support those rights when it comes to actually passing legislation.” To cap it off, there’s an article by Tommi Avicolli Mecca noting that “by the late 70s, a more mainstream movement had emerged. Gay rights bills were pushed through legislatures, inroads made with certain Protestant denominations, support gained from the Democratic Party…[now] the new LGBT leadership often abandons multi-issue coalitions and an agenda that stressed social as well as economic justice…[for instance] the Human Rights Campaign [HRC]…ignores homelessness and poverty altogether, and wants Congress to pass a federal gay rights bill that doesn’t include transgenders, the group that needs protection the most.”
From this, I began to look into Gay Inc. Andy Thayer defines this term as encompassing all of the big gay non-profits, from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) to the HRC but I would expand it to include the Arcus Foundation, the Gill Foundation, Log Cabin Republicans, Freedom To Marry, Equality Forum, Lesbian Victory Fund, the Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Out and Equal, GLAAD, Family Equality Council, and the National Gay and Lesbian Center of Commerce (NGLCC).
I start with the HRC. This organization is the most celebrated LGBTQ organization in the United States, which according to a back of one of their stickers, “envisions an America where all LGBT people are ensured equality and are embraced as full members of the American family at home, at work and in every community.” However, a further look at their website puts this into question. Looking at their “platinum,” “gold,” “silver,” and “bronze” corporate partners there are some startling companies that are helping them. Such companies include: Citigroup which participated in a conference that is hosted by an organization that denies the horrible Armenian genocide, Microsoft which increased their offshore profit holdings by $16 billion last year, American Airlines which will probably merge with US Airways creating the world’s largest airline, Bank of America which is currently in court over lost mortgage investments, Coca-Cola which needs excessive water use to make their products, the Toyota-made Lexus which was sued by customers because of sudden acceleration, Chevron which was issued criminal charges by Brazilian prosecutors for massive environmental damage, BP which paid no corporate income taxes but got a rebate, Google which admitted that its “Street View” program violates privacy, Nike which runs sweatshops for profit in the Southeast Asia, IBM which put over $6.5 billion dollars offshore last year, TD Bank which has investments in TransCanada which is building the Keystone XL Pipeline, Goldman Sachs which paid no corporate income tax, Shell Oil which is now responsible for all of the oil spills in the Niger Delta, Starbucks which was fined by a Chilean Court $50,000 for anti-union practices in the country, Dell which was found by a New York Court to be guilty of fraud, JPMorganChase which has recently been more vigorously investigated by federal authorities in cases including a flawed review of loans and lying to investors, and Morgan Stanley which admitted that it knew about the housing bubble in 2005 before it burst but did nothing to stop it. Also, one can even get a BankAmericard for the organization! All of these partners make it seem that the HRC really doesn’t really care about equality, but that it’s just a façade. They say their ‘corporate equality index’[CEI] will “propel equality” and their President writes that “Corporate America continues to raise the bar in workplace fairness. we hope Congress will follow corporate America’s lead and create a level playing field – including passing fully-inclusive workplace non-discrimination legislation.” This year’s CEI report gave high ratings to General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., IBM, and Freddie Mac, among others.
The next biggest part of Gay, Inc. is the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force or NGLTF. First off, one should consider their sponsors include one major group of banksters (Wells Fargo), a bus line that is owned by Greyhound (Grey Goose), a CBS-owned television network (Showtime), Comcast-NBCUniversal, a major US airline (Southwest) and an LGBTQ weekly called the Washington Blade. In the issues section of their website, they take a stand against the “anti-gay industry,” they have a vote guide that lists their positions but doesn’t mention the Democratic Party even though they clearly are telling people to vote for the Democrats, they want the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to pass which is backed by groups ranging from the HRC, NAACP, American Bar Association and yes, Nike, which are the same in both Houses of Congress. The same goes with the Matthew Shepard Act which was backed by numerous gay rights organizations in the Senate and was tied to a military spending bill in the House which further shows the non-threatening nature of the bill. Then, they praised the Affordable Care Act which was a bailout for the healthcare industry. None of this is surprising considering the Board of their Action fund includes a pro-Obama message service (Progressive Victory), a holding company of diversified commercial and industrial businesses (CIC Group), and an organization that consults different groups on gender issues (Botzer Consulting). One shouldn’t forget that their Board of Directors includes members of a global consulting firm (McKinsey and Company), a huge hospital company (Brinker International), and the program officer of the Gates Foundation.
Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) is one of the most corrupt of them all. Their Board of Directors includes a former employee of GE Healthcare, the US Treasury Department, Verizon, HRC, and GlaxoSmithKline. From this it’s no surprise their sponsors include Macy’s, Bank of America, Liberty Mutual, and DLA Piper. Maybe this is why they don’t have much in the realm of legislative advocacy. A similar organization, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has a similar situation. They have corporate sponsors including AT&T, Wells Fargo, Disney, Target, Disney, IBM, HP, Goldman Sachs, Google, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup. As a result, their Board of Directors includes members of Disney, Kodak, Sodexo, JPMorgan Chase, Cisco Systems, Wells Fargo, DreamWorks, and IBM. This is a major problem because they are the originators of the whole idea of Gay-Straight Alliances in secondary educational institutions (I had one in my high school).
Consider an organization that doesn’t seem that bad: it advocates to help LGBTQ people find jobs. This group called Out & Equal has its problems. These stem from the companies that group lists on its “LGBTCareerLink” page which include a company that helped George W. Bush fix the Florida elections (WellPoint), BP, Bank of America, GE, Comcast, PNC, and Clorox among others. This won’t really help the well-being of LGBTQ folk and improve their place in society. Then there’s the organization named GLAAD which officially says it will secure “full and lasting equality.” However, this is put seriously into question when Comcast and Wells Fargo are two of their “premier partners” and their other sponsors include AT&T, IBM and Microsoft.
One of the biggest foundations that funds much of the movement called the Arcus Foundation doesn’t seem to have direct connections to Big Business. However, on their Board of Directors they have a person who founded a group that “advances corporate, philanthropic and legislative efforts” for social justice causes, the CEO of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, one who formerly worked at the Rockefeller Foundation, a former CNN correspondent, a former IBM employee, former Director of Board Affairs for Planned Parenthood, and a former accountant. As for the Gill Foundation, it’s pretty similar. Its board members include the founder of Quark, Inc. and a former Google employee. Also, they promote a project by Out & Equal which once again promotes big business.
In a completely different realm is a family-oriented organization called Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays or PFLAG. It sounds all nice and dandy but there’s one major problem: its sponsors. Those that back this organization include Wells Fargo, UPS, Credit Suisse, Barclays, Sodexo, Dow, Northrop Grumman, and Finra, the self-regulating body of the financial industry. This is then why their policy positions don’t really challenge business. On the other hand, Freedom To Marry, which pushes for Gay Marriage and ending “federal marriage discrimination” is similarly backed by business interests. The organization’s board of directors includes former members of an asset management company, vice-president of Amazon.com, surrogate speaker for President Obama, a person who has coached hundreds of corporate CEOs. These are even worse than the competing Log Cabin Republicans which advocates for gay policy in the GOP and the Stonewall Democrats doing the same in the Democratic Party along with the Lesbian Victory Fund endorses LGBT candidates in office. And don’t forget the Equality Forum which has a former Comcast CEO on their Board of Governors, and a Wealth Advisor for Merrill Lynch on their Board of Directors. Good ole’ Comcast and AT&T sponsor them as well. Then there’s the Family Equality Council which officially “represents the three million parents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender in this country and their six million children.” However, I’m not sure how those that are “represented” would like to see that the organization is sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada, HBO, Target, Capitol One, PepsiCo, and General Mills. The last organization I focused on was the National Gay and Lesbian Center of Commerce. This is one of the worst: it has corporate partners including Wells Fargo, UnitedHealthcare, and MillerCoors while they have an effort to reach corporate America and help make them LGBTQ “certified.”
By now, it should be clear that Greenwald was right when he said that gay equality does not threaten the American power structure and possibly even bolsters their power through the backing of Gay, Inc. by the Business Community. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. The LGBTQ rights movement which didn’t begin in Stonewall but actually in “in 1965 [in] the first queer sit-ins on record took place at a late-night Philadelphia coffee shop and lunch counter called Dewey’s, a popular hangout for young gays, lesbians and drag queens.” This action morphed into a protest rally, “an informational picket line protesting the lunch counter’s treatment of gender-variant youth….[and] another sit-in” which spread across the country in numerous incidents as described in a history of the movement by Tommi Avicolli Mecca. However, Stonewall was marked as the beginning by many because after it was the founding of the militant Gay Liberation Front or GLF which tied gay liberation to other struggles for liberation. This has been lost in Gay Inc. There has been no confrontation of heterosexism or fostering of understanding to mitigate homophobic violence or an end for all restrictions for LGBT people in the workplace. A new path must be forged, by using the direct action organization called the Gay Liberation Network run by Andy Thayer, which aims for a grassroots approach to help LGBTQ people as basis for the new movement which would reject the establishment parties and the power of the business community. Otherwise, this social movement will increase the power of those who are screwing the world every day.