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Big Business Sponsors March To A Mixed Reception At Salt Lake City's Pride Parade

Rebecca Ellis / KUER
Activists have protested some of the Utah Pride Parade's corporate sponsors like Wells Fargo and Walmart.

Members of Utah’s LGBTQ community marched through downtown Salt Lake Sunday for the city's annual Pride Parade. And the corporate sponsors were right behind them.

While some were pleased to see some of the country’s largest corporations — American Express, Wal-Mart, Comcast — championing the state’s LGBTQ community, others feared commercial interests had co-opted the celebration. A group of protesters disrupted the opening ceremony of Saturday’s festival, claiming “Pride has been severed from its roots.”

A similar protest took place in 2018, when members of a local activist group, Queers Divest, briefly blocked the parade route after circulating a petition asking for the festival’s organizers to ban Wells Fargo and Chase Bank from the parade.

Credit Rebecca Ellis / KUER
Stickers critical of Pride remain posted around downtown Salt Lake City, blocks from the parade's path.

“Obviously, the same corporate sponsors showed up this year, and so it’s still an ongoing issue,” said Esther Meroño Baro, a volunteer organizer with the Utah’s Poor People Campaign who took part in last year’s protests.

Meroño Baro said she believes that large companies use the parade as a way to soak up unearned publicity.

“The reason we target them here in the Pride Parade is that they’re given a platform,” she said. “[It] puts them in a position of allyship and that’s, in fact, a big fat lie,”

Timothy Crookston, a native of Kaysville who attended this year’s Pride Parade, said he too had reservations about the intentions of some of the festival’s corporate sponsors.

“Gay culture’s becoming such a cool and hip thing ... that I feel like companies may be using that to their advantage,” he said. “And so it’s just kind of balancing the intention behind why are you sponsoring us now and where have you been.”

Rob Moolman, who oversaw the festival as the executive director of the Utah Pride Center, said the fact that so many corporations are looking to be part of the event is a shift worthy of celebration.

“We need to recognize the changes that have taken place within corporate structures,” he said. “Ten, 20 years ago you couldn’t be out at work. You couldn’t have the support of medical benefits or the support of leadership or even be in leadership positions.”

Moolman added that Utah’s festival is one of the few in the country that doubles as a fundraiser.

“Every dollar that the corporate sponsor spends comes to the Pride Center,” he said.

Still, he said, the center has tried to respond to attendee’s concerns. And so, for the first time this year, corporate sponsors who wanted entrance to the parade had to fill out a questionnaire, detailing how they were supporting the state’s LGBTQ community beyond marching down 200 South.

Rebecca Ellis is a Kroc Fellow with NPR. She grew up in New York City and graduated from Brown University in 2018 with a Bachelor's in Urban Studies. In college, Rebecca served as a managing editor at the student newspaper, the Brown Daily Herald, and freelanced for Rhode Island's primary paper, the Providence Journal. She has spent past summers as an investigator at the Bronx Defenders, a public defender's office in the Bronx, New York, and as a reporter at the Miami Herald, filing general assignment stories and learning to scuba dive.
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