Marching with pride for gay-marriage decision

Long before I was walking, they were marching.

The pioneers of gay rights, gay visibility, gay pride first took to the streets of New York City in 1970 to march. Marching toward equality, toward freedom, toward justice. Marching to demand to be seen and heard. Marching to continue the battle cry that had been sounded one year before at Stonewall.

What began as a routine police raid on a gay bar ended as the beginning of a civil-rights movement. Rather than accept what had become the all-too-common violence and humiliation of the raid, that night the patrons of The Stonewall Inn rose up and fought back. A year later, that spark had ignited into an organized march to commemorate and amplify the fight.

Corporations like Google have supported same-sex marriage for years.
jmvhy | Flickr Commons
Corporations like Google have supported same-sex marriage for years.

In the decades that followed, the march reflected the emotional and political journey of the community: The anger and pain of the early struggles for basic human recognition; the profound sadness and fear and rage as AIDS ravaged; the betrayal of political discriminations like the Defense of Marriage Act; the optimism of early victories of the first civil union and marriage laws; the elation of momentum for marriage equality in more and more states. And this weekend, euphoria with Supreme Court's ultimate decision and marriage equality's final victory.

As they marched through the years, these early brave souls were joined by more and more of us in more and more cities, and the marching became dancing, and the protest chants became music, and the police who first turned their backs in disgust on the sidewalks folded into the streets to serve with pride themselves, and the politicians who first wouldn't grant an audience now wouldn't miss the chance to connect with this audience, and the children we never thought possible held our hands as they marched toward the future.

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And somewhere on this long road, a company started marching, too. And then another and another. First to us, then for us, then as us.

It started as sales. Alcohol. Companies like Barcardi and Budweiser who could sell us a way to dull our pain or lift our celebration. Chiseled models on floats parading an ideal we were happy to try to attain, one glass at a time.

But soon the alcohol became airlines like Delta, and the models became model employees, and the point became not just to sell us a product but to celebrate us. Or more to the point, to celebrate the us who are also they – the hundreds and thousands of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) people who work at those companies and build those products and lead those projects and staff those teams. To say that pride in your company and pride in your identity are not mutually exclusive. To say that bringing your whole self to work makes you and your company work better. To say we are proud of you and we are proud to work with you. And not just to say it, but to shout it through the streets of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and beyond.

These companies, from Marriott and Hilton to Google, Apple and Facebook, who march in parades across the nation, and raise the banner of their corporate colors to both protect and elevate their LGBTQ team members – they know the great corporate responsibility that comes with great corporate power. The responsibility to lead, not just your company but your community and your country. Especially when your country needs leading.

The recent misguided attempt by Indiana's governor and legislature to codify discrimination in the name of religious freedom was beaten back in a matter of days by companies like Salesforce who canceled all programs requiring customers and employees to travel to Indiana; by Angie's List, which withdrew its proposal to expand its Indiana campus; and by so many others who have raised their voices against it.

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Today, as South Carolina struggles to defend the Confederate flag that flies at its Capitol and politicians twist themselves in knots to not take a stand, Walmart, Sears/Kmart, Amazon, eBay and more decisively pulled all Confederate flag merchandise from their shelves and sites. And in an act of poetic leadership, Starbucks raised the gay-pride Flag above its own headquarters in Seattle. A rainbow beacon for all to see. What so proudly we hailed.

This is the America of which I sing. And this is Corporate America. One marching step at a time.

Commentary by Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn Theaters, owner of five Broadway theaters where Book of Mormon, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, Jersey Boys, Kinky Boots and Something Rotten are currently playing. Roth is on the boards of Freedom to Marry, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Broadway League. He is also CEO and founder of Culturalist, a new social network based around user-generated top 10 lists and all things culture. Follow him on Twitter @Jordan_Roth