Charlotte Pride ‘22 was going to be my son’s first Pride event and I was super excited to take him. I was over the moon about sharing this experience with him, but then I thought about what the festival represented and if it was enough. 

Would it be full of history? Would it be magical for him? Would it create memories we would want to talk about later? Would it be full of celebration and color that he could get excited about? I couldn’t answer those questions, but one aspect of the event was undeniable: Charlotte Pride has corporate names plastered all over it.

The general theme of Charlotte Pride is a festival of shows, vendors and other areas followed by a parade, which consists of local LGBTQ-owned businesses, sports, and clubs marching down the street in celebration. But even our beloved queer procession isn’t immune to an overkill of sponsorships and heavily-advertised corporate businesses. 

Their ads say how much of an ally they are to the community and the companies shell out big money to splash their branding all over the Pride events. But for some sponsors, there’s a darker flipside to that political coin.

Since my relocation to Charlotte in 2006, I’ve attended a couple of Charlotte Pride events. Both years I’ve felt a burning frustration that so many corporate entities have their hands in the event.

I started asking myself, what is Charlotte Pride actually about? Is it about community pride? Does it demonstrate any semblance of our community’s history and legacy? Currently, it has a facade of being about corporate sponsors that blanket the parade route with floats and show up on every social media post from the organization.

In my opinion, the leaders of the non-profit Charlotte Pride have lost sight of the magic a Pride celebration should bring everyone and they’ve traded it in for big money. 

Some might ask, “but how is Charlotte Pride supposed to pay for these events? How are they supposed to provide a festival without corporate sponsors?” I don’t have an answer, but as a community constantly fighting for its rights, how is it morally and ethically right when most of the major sponsors have a very recent history of giving money to politicians that write and support anti-LGBTQ+ legislation?

“Charlotte Pride envisions a world in which LGBTQ people are affirmed, respected, and included in the full social and civic life of their local communities, free from fear of any discrimination, rejection, and prejudice.”

How can Charlotte Pride have such a vision while taking money from corporations that do not? According to Data for Progress, 15 of Charlotte Pride’s sponsors this year gave more than $1,000 to anti-LGBTQ candidates between 2019 and 2022, with some topping $40,000 in total contributions. Seven of those sponsors (Bank of America, PNC Bank, Wells Fargo, Enterprise, Regions Bank, Wal-mart and State Farm Insurance) contributed to Gov. Greg Abbot’s (R-Texas) gubernatorial campaign. Abbott called on citizens earlier this year to report parents for child abuse if they supported gender-affirming care. 

Two of Charlotte Pride’s sponsors, State Farm and Budweiser, gave $5,000 and $10,000 respectively to Gov. Kay Ivey (R-Ala.) just weeks after she signed HB 322 which banned K-12 students from using bathrooms and school facilities consistent with their gender identity and enacted a “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” provision in grades K-5. 

Why is Charlotte Pride taking money from corporations that do this? It begs the question, did they do any research before taking this corporate money? Do they care, or is it more about making sure the event happens regardless of who funds it? 

According to the Charlotte Pride website, “the vast majority of proceeds and sponsorship go to the operation and staging of our annual major events.” Additional funds are used to invest in “improving the annual festival and parade, year-round programming and organizational operations like staff and office space.” 

Taking money from corporations that do not share the same values actively works against us. It’s an insult. It’s demeaning. It’s a slap in the face of the LGTBQ+ community. 

The Festival

Another issue with taking corporate sponsor money is how the festival and parade are marketed back to the public. Corporate sponsors end up getting a “zone” or stage named after them. Who wants to say they’re in the PNC Festival Zone? And what could be more appalling than the Bank of America Charlotte Pride Parade? Both banks gave $10,000 each to Abbott in 2019 and 2020 respectively. 

Why have big corporations been allowed to buy their way into our history? Why are pride festivals commercially branded instead of named in honor of our achievements? 

This flies in the face of the celebration of our culture and is out of touch with the spirit of Pride itself. Corporations have literally bought a high ticket pass into our community and Pride events in Charlotte and across the country have allowed it to happen.

Editor’s note: Qnotes is a media partner of Charlotte Pride.