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Inside Amazon’s failed attempt to “buy” the Seattle Pride Parade

A Pride flag flies on top of the Space Needle in Seattle
Reuters/Karen Ducey
Iconic.
  • Lila MacLellan
By Lila MacLellan

Quartz at Work senior reporter

Published Last updated

Amazon, headquartered in Seattle, wanted to go big with its corporate sponsorship of the city’s Pride Parade. It was prepared to give organizers $100,000 to sponsor the 2022 event, which will be held in June.

For context, the tech behemoth donated roughly $42,000 in total to Seattle Pride from 2009 to 2019, then stopped supporting the Pride parade, which promotes LGBTQIA+ rights, when it went virtual during the pandemic.

But its proposed donation this year came with a significant request: The company wanted the event to be renamed “Seattle Pride Parade Presented by Amazon,” says Krystal Marx, Seattle Pride’s executive director.

That was likely its downfall. In an era of stakeholder capitalism, when corporations are being routinely called out by consumers and employees for not consistently living up to their professed values, Amazon’s attempt to essentially buy its local Pride parade left it open to serious criticism.

To be sure, Seattle Pride already had a “presented by” sponsorship level for companies donating large sums to the parade. Amazon tells Quartz that it discussed a new sponsorship tier with Pride organizers, but denies requesting a complete name change that would favor Amazon exclusively.

Either way, Seattle Pride announced this week that it would be “parting ways” with Amazon, citing the firm’s financial donations to lawmakers who have proposed and supported anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation, several examples of which it listed in a public statement.

The group also pointed to problems with the AmazonSmile program, which customers can use to automatically give to their charities of choice when shopping on the site. Amazon allows anti-LGBTQIA+ organizations to earn donations through the program, says Seattle Pride.

Amazon wasn’t fully engaged with Seattle Pride

It’s possible that Amazon could have joined the parade without raising eyebrows had it not attempted to buy the name, which, Marx says, wasn’t for sale.

Seattle Pride has only had the staff and capital resources to do deep research into its large corporate sponsors for the past few years, Marx explains. Then again, there has also been a new push within the organization to live up to its own values. New board members have been “digging into” diversity, equity and inclusion work internally, says Marx, “and one of the areas that we all identified as important was making sure that we knew who was giving us money.”

Most corporate sponsors work with Seattle Pride all year, Marx adds. Her team might run a pronoun training seminar for a company’s employees, for example. Amazon, Marx says, was not engaged with Seattle Pride at all

When Marx first brought the proposal to the board in February, she says, “there was a stunned silence for a moment. ‘Like, really’? ‘Only $100,000? To buy the parade?'”

(Even if they had offered more for the parade, “we would have said no,” she adds, but from Amazon, that opening bid “was a shock.”)

The main disappointment, however, was that after two years of not supporting Seattle Pride, “they’re coming in with, ‘Here’s our 100K, put our name on it,'” says Marx, who believes all the company sought was visibility.

Amazon responds to Seattle Pride’s rejection

To be sure, Seattle Pride already had a “presented by” sponsorship level for companies donating large sums to the parade. Amazon tells Quartz that it discussed a new sponsorship tier with Pride organizers, but did not confirm that it had requested a complete name change that would favor Amazon exclusively.

For its part, the company says it donates to many politicians and regulators on various issues and doesn’t always agree with “any individual or political organization 100% of the time on every issue,” a spokesperson said in a statement to Quartz.

The company further noted that it was an early supporter of gay marriage, it now provides gender transition benefits, and it puts a heavy emphasis on inclusion for its LGBTQ+ employees. What’s more, AmazonSmile doesn’t endorse or necessarily share the views of organizations that make use of that platform, it said.

Amazon employees left message of support with Seattle Pride

Amazon’s absence from Seattle Pride’s return to downtown streets will mark a departure for the company and some of its employees. The tech giant’s Glamazon affinity group for LGBTQ+ employees first marched in Seattle Pride in 2007.

But if Amazon workers are disappointed by the outcome, Seattle Pride isn’t hearing about it. Instead, says Marx, some apparent Amazon staffers are posting messages of thanks when they make personal donations. “We’ve seen a lot of comments from people who identify themselves as Amazon employees,” she says, and they are “standing in solidarity and really appreciating that we are leading this fight.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify, and include, a response from Amazon regarding its proposed sponsorship.

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