By Toni Wallace
UTA Partner & Head of Music Brand Partnerships
Pride 2023 is underway, and it is singing a different tune this year. For those who don’t know, the first pride marches took place in June 1970. The goal has always been to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, its hard-earned rights, and the fights that continue. But most importantly, it was a time to celebrate love. All types of love.
As a lesbian, Pride has always been such a joyous time for my family and friends. It brings us all together to cherish the beauty of love and to remember to always be your authentic self, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, the color of your skin, what religion you are, or where you come from. The colors, the laughter, the music, people young and old, all coming together to appreciate and support one another. A rainbow of happiness that casts its bright light and smiles across the sky.
Pride feels different for me this year, especially as someone who works with brands in the music business. A quick scan of headlines or social media confirms that the world in which we live today is extremely polarizing and sometimes downright baffling. I know many of us feel that way and are deeply worried about the future. So many human rights issues seem to be moving backward, not forward. I never could have imagined in my lifetime seeing Roe v. Wade reversed, and I certainly never thought I would live in a state that doesn’t allow for my young family members and kids to say the word “gay” at school.
But here we are, half a century of pride celebrations later, seeing brands like Bud Light, Target and Disney take losses and reputational hits, people losing their jobs, their homes, and sometimes their lives, because they are part of the community or support it.
Love is a human right, not a culture war, a business decision, or – as I have recently heard some research analysts say – a political position. The choice of who to love is the fabric that binds humanity together and helps us achieve great things.
I am 42 years old, and while I have been extremely lucky in my life, it has not always been easy. My first job out of college was for a very inclusive employer, but the times made it uncomfortable to be out. I lived two lives – one at work and one at home. There were very few (if any) LGBTQ+ people at my company or in the world at large, at least that’s how it seemed.
I spent a decade hiding who I truly was, which in turn, made me sick, both mentally and physically. My parents had always taught me to look around for role models, and yet I could rarely find anyone who felt like me. This lack of representation is what prompted me to come out at age 28 to do my part and try to normalize being gay in corporate America. I made the decision boldly but fearful of the repercussions.
I know this is just one anecdote, but I share this personal story because I know it made a difference for many. Today I can confidently say, I am blessed beyond measure. I work in an industry and for an incredible employer that embraces individuality and celebrates us for it. Today I look around and I have so many LGBTQ+ colleagues, and although this is undeniable progress, I know we can take nothing for granted and we always need to do more.
As business leaders, we cannot allow anyone to pull us backward. We must protect our work environment and the values we stand for in the marketplace. Don’t let the echo chamber of a wrongful few define our future. In the end, love will prevail regardless of short-term stock market hits. Humanity is not an investment decision or a political debate, and being a leader means not managing with fear but managing with integrity and setting the bar high even when it is hard. So I urge you to not sit on the sidelines because non-action is easier or safer. As we see our world at a crossroads, now is when the small acts each of us take will make the biggest differences of all.
This month let’s celebrate all the voices in the room and around the world. Thank you especially to all the incredible musicians and individuals in the music industry who continue to fight for all parts of humanity to be seen and heard. Let’s aim to make this year the brightest, the loudest and the proudest yet.