Big (Gay) Business: For Many Fortune 500 Companies Corporate Pride Is a Year-Round Enterprise

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The Disneyland Main Street fire engine has left the Anaheim, Calif., theme park only twice in the last 50 years--both times to transport LGBT Disney employees in nearby Long Beach's pride parade. This June marks the seventh time that Kaiser Permanente employees in San Francisco will march in their city's gay pride parade. This year they're dressing as vegetables and carrying signs that read WE'RE STEAMED AND WE DON'T TAKE LONG TO PREPARE and WE'RE HERE, WE'RE HEALTHY, GET USED TO IT.

A decade ago it was unheard-of for corporations to support and identify with gay-themed activities to such a degree. But with the rise of LGBT employee groups in major corporations, showing your pride now has the blessing of higher-ups.

"Corporations are very necessary to the success of modern pride festivals and parades," says Jere Keys, a spokesman for Out and Equal Workplace Advocates. "The more businesses continue to interact with the LGBT community, increase awareness, increase inclusivity, the better it is for the entire LGBT community."

Not so fast, says Jamison Green, a board member at the nonprofit Transgender Law and Policy Institute. "On one hand it's a very positive thing," he says. "On the other hand it can feel like a kind of co-opting of queer culture, and that is conceptually problematic. When it appears that they are cultivating us to sell their product, that doesn't feel so good to me."

Whatever the motivation, U.S. corporations have become increasingly accepting of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers. Danny Baker, director of operations and finance at the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, notes that not only do many companies sponsor LGBT events and support employee groups, more than 100 major corporations now include gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies. (And hundreds include sexual orientation.) "This change in workplace culture has been fueled in large part by the efforts of employee resource groups that are educating employees, managers, and executives during pride months and beyond," he says.

It certainly didn't happen overnight. Seven years ago Kaiser's participation in the parade was markedly different. "We started out with a couple of drag queens and a couple of big hypodermic needles," says Jeffery Sterman, public affairs director for Kaiser Permanente, San Francisco.

Oh, how far we've come. Here's a look at some gay-friendly corporations and how they show their pride.

Bank of America

WHAT THEY DO: The company's Pride Resource Group's 16 regional chapters, including New York City, Boston, and Charlotte, N.C., are participating in parades and pride festivals. The Hartford, Conn., group is sponsoring an LGBT film festival.

WHAT THEY SAY: "Bank of America really is supportive of LGBT issues. We've got chapters all across the country and what they are after is really promoting an environment that attracts and retains [diverse employees]."--Jim Eckerle, senior vice president of enterprise initiative delivery

DaimlerChrysler Corp.

WHAT THEY DO: People of Diversity, an LGBT employee resource group, is creating a 15-panel AIDS quilt that will be on display at the Auburn Hills, Mich., headquarters in June. The quilt will be visible to the 11,000 employees who work in the building.

WHAT THEY SAY: "Diversity is a key guiding principle at DaimlerChrysler--and it's the way we do business."--Tom LaSorda, president and CEO of the Chrysler Group

Cox Communications

WHAT THEY DO: Cox puts its money where its mouth is. This summer the company is sponsoring the San Diego LGBT pride parade, the Pacific Pride Foundation's AIDS Walk in Santa Barbara, Calif., and the Kidz Korner at Nebraska's pride festival in Omaha. Cox also underwrites the Human Rights Campaign Louisiana and the annual Parenting Conference of Rainbow Families, D.C.

WHAT THEY SAY: "Our approach to diversity goes beyond platitudes about the right thing to do. …