With Pride Month just getting underway, businesses and organizations across the country are showing their support for the LGBT community. Others have decided to avoid controversy and remain quietly neutral, while others still, like Chick Fil A, actively oppose LGBT rights. Showing support for, or demonstrating animosity toward, the LGBT community, businesses risk backlash, and calculate this prior to taking their stances. Today, on June 3, 2019, local CBS affiliate News Channel 5 miscalculated, first showing support for Pride by placing its logo against a backdrop of the rainbow, then backtracking and removing the Pride logo after online criticism.
In so doing, they have drawn the ire of both the extreme right in Middle Tennessee, as well as the LGBT community, many of whom felt the organization was backing away from its longstanding support for the LGBT community in the face of anti-LGBT sentiment. As of this writing, News Channel 5 has yet to issue a formal statement clarifying the course of events, or their policy position.
News Channel 5 has a long history of supporting the LGBT community in much more tangible ways than a social media profile image: in 2005, when Nashville was significantly less LGBT friendly than it is today, News Channel 5 partnered with Out & About to launch Out & About Today. Over the last fourteen years, LGBT issues have been broadcast into homes across Middle Tennessee weekly.
On the other hand, such a public relations disaster sends terrible messages, both to the LGBT community and to the extreme right. To the LGBT community, it sends the message that, when the issues heat up, News Channel 5 may not be there. To the extreme right, it says that this is a winning strategy and emboldens them to utilize this strategy in the future to influence programming and business strategy.
The Tennessee Equality Project’s Chris Sanders highlighted why the LGBT community has reacted so strongly. “Returning the Pride logo would be more consistent with the station's years of support through initiatives like Out & About Today. Middle Tennessee's LGBTQ community has taken offense at the logo's removal because it occurred against the backdrop of the many attacks and the considerable discrimination we experience in this state. NewsChannel5 covered one of those attacks today in its story about the Coffee County District Attorney who ignores domestic violence among same-sex couples. LGBTQ people are in the midst of a critical time and we need clear signals.”
The Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s CEO Joe Woolley earlier today withheld comment pending a statement from News Channel 5, but when the station failed to issue any statement, he said, "Channel 5 has a long history of standing with the LGBT community and equality. But it does not give them a pass for the bad business decision they made today. They should have had a policy in place on posting something like this, and it should have been approved and supported from the top down."
Woolley explained that, while corporate support for Pride is important, it is even more important that those who do so are prepared to stand firm. "We talk to corporations and businesses all the time about when they show PRIDE that they believe in it and support and don't back down when the backlash comes. The backlash will come and it is important to be ready and to have policy in place to handle that. When a business does pull back, they have lost on all sides because they have offended everyone."
"It's unfortunate that the people that oppose pride and equality," Woolley concluded, "now feel they have a win and feel emboldened to lash out at LGBT people and organizations that do."
We will update the story as it develops.