A dip into the Corporate Philanthropy pool

It is almost the end of June and all types of brands, fashion houses, and corporations have had their rainbows out in full force. Notable instances include Sephora’s We Belong To Something Beautiful,  and Mercedes Benz’s latest ad where both campaign films feature recognizable lgbtq+ actors, models, and influencers. Even brands that have openly made discriminatory comments towards our community were suddenly pushing out ‘exclusive PRIDE collections’ as soon as it hit June 1st. Brands and corporations refuse to acknowledge us every other month of the year, yet as soon as it’s June ‘representation matters’ for the next 30 days. This is a pattern we have seen year in year out, and sometimes a whole month of queer-baiting corporate philanthropy can be an annoying start to the summer months.

So what exactly is corporate philanthropy? It is when a for-profit corporation donates resources to a cause, often times one that aligns with its own [not so] hidden agenda. It can be cash, access to office space, food donations etc. Of course, big tobacco corporations have notable instances of donating money to change certain narratives in their favor.

The most notable instance involving the lgbtq+ has to be when ACT-UP organized a boycott of Marlboro and miller products in 1990. This was to protest Philip Morris’ open support for the reelection of Jessie Helms (R, N.Carolina), an vehemently anti-gay senator. In 1990 it was reported that Morris was one of Helms’ largest corporate contributors, with a whopping $200,000 donated to his citizenship center alone (almost $400,000 when adjusted for inflation). The boycott lasted for a year, until PMI (Philip Morris International) donated money to numerous AIDS research/gay [and lesbian] civil rights organizations and went on to say that we should be boycotting its competitors. This was during the AIDs crisis, a time where not many helping hands were outstretched towards the community, meaning people felt they could not really take a stand against PMI because they were allegedly trying to help us. The exact dollar amount is not specified seeing as the corporation did not release an official statement regarding such, however this series of donations made protesters feel as if the boycott was becoming redundant. And so it ended consequently..    

Poster for the Kool Jazz Fest 1983. Touring 24 cities, including Minneapolis And St. Paul

Poster for the Kool Jazz Fest 1983. Touring 24 cities, including Minneapolis And St. Paul

In August of 1976, Kool brand hosted its first ever Annual Kool Jazz Festival. With an amazing lineup featuring The Stylistics, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson, it became an instant hit! After detailed research into the lifestyles of their target consumer, they used this as an opportunity to fully insert themselves into the black community by hosting something culturally relevant. This festival provided a platform for up and coming jazz artists (many of which were black), and made sure their logo/products were front and center stage. This was no coincidence, seeing as menthol cigarettes are the number 1 type used by the African American community, and they just so happen to be KOOL brand’s specialty. When it comes to the black community, big tobacco have spent millions donating to HBCUs, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, members of the N.A.A.C.P., and even the Thurgood Marshall Fund at one point. This was to guarantee social and political safety nets, should their best interests start becoming compromised. So when we see them attempting to donate millions to black medical research institutions today supposedly for unbiased research, we cannot help but to side eye their intentions because of what big tobacco’s history has taught us.

Infact, History seems to be repeating itself because today we are seeing similar tactics used towards our community again.  We have talked about queerbaiting before, however this has become almost like a fanciful ritual. In November of last year the Victoria’s Secret chief marketing officer sparked outrage by saying ‘transsexuals’ were not attractive enough to be considered a [part of its angel] fantasy, in response to the brand being called-out for its lack of diversity. In spite of these comments just months later their pride collection can be found front and center on the PINK home page. Deep down our community as a whole knows these companies are just pandering to our wallets, yet we still eat up like a jar of cookie butter. Why? Simply because the content is refreshing; seeing people like us virtually everywhere. This is the one month we are explicitly catered to in mass media. They actually hire lgbtq+ models and actors for their campaigns, and events are curated specifically with our enjoyment in mind.  

All in all there is nothing wrong about enjoying the month’s corporate sponsored festivities, as long as you remember they are just that. Corporate tobacco was one of the first mass institutions to market towards, and celebrate an lgbtq+ lifestyle. And because they did it so well, that is why we see similar tactics used by other companies/brands. It is a weird feeling when “greater” powers place a monopoly on your enjoyment, but until it’s no longer considered groundbreaking to host an all queer line-up event, hire trans models/actors for multi-million dollar projects, or even live to see 50 as a black trans woman, we will indeed be feeding off of these carefully created campaigns.








Written by J