Google and YouTube may no longer be welcome at one of the world’s largest LGBTQ Pride parades.
Last week, members of the organization San Francisco Pride (SF Pride) voted to ban Google from participating in future celebrations, saying the company doesn’t do enough to protect LGBTQ people on its platforms, particularly those who are the target of harassment and hate speech on YouTube. The move is a significant shift in attitude toward a company that historically has been regarded as a corporate leader in its support of the LGBTQ community, and is now under scrutiny for its perceived lack of commitment to those efforts.
For many years, tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple have spent significant sums sponsoring parades such as SF Pride, inviting their employees to march alongside company-branded floats in support of LGBTQ rights.
But in recent months, some people, including those within Google’s workforce, have criticized the search giant’s participation in the event, saying the company allows harmful speech hurting LGBTQ and other vulnerable groups to run rampant on the platform, and that new policy changes the company has made to crack down on harassment don’t go far enough.
“Companies are no longer scared to be seen as pro-LGBTQ; in fact, their participation is a great opportunity for them. We believe companies should earn that opportunity by proving that they really do stand with our community,” reads a statement shared with Recode and other outlets by the members seeking to ban Google from the parade.
Seven members at a meeting last Wednesday voted in favor of the recommendation to ban Google, according to the organization’s interim executive director, Fred Lopez. SF Pride has more than 300 members total, but only around a dozen were present at the time of the vote, according to Lopez.
At the meeting, some members of the board disputed whether the vote was legally binding without the board’s approval. In a statement to Recode, Lopez wrote:
One small group raised concerns about Google as a corporate sponsor. Our legal team is reviewing the implications of last week’s vote by seven of Pride’s 326 members. Our Board of Directors will meet February 5th to determine our next step. As we get ready to celebrate our 50th parade, our goal remains the same as it was for our first — to be inclusive and reflect the diversity of our communities.
The efforts to ban Google from Pride are being led in part by former Google employee Laurence Berland. Berland is one of several former Google employees who has alleged that the company recently fired them for engaging in workplace organizing — a claim that Google has denied, saying Berland and others violated corporate policies around data security. Berland has been pushing to ban Google from SF Pride since June when he was still working for the company.
A spokesperson for Google issued a statement to Recode in response to the vote, saying:
Google has been a proud supporter of San Francisco Pride for over a decade. We’re saddened that seven members, including a recently fired employee, decided to recommend banning Google, YouTube, and our employees from supporting this important community organization. SF Pride has over 300 members and a separate Board that makes the ultimate decision on participation; we’ll continue to work with the San Francisco Pride Board and its broader membership on next steps.
The spokesperson also pointed to Google’s opposition to laws that target the LGBTQ community, as well as its support for employees who are LGBTQ by providing same-sex health benefits, including coverage of gender reassignment surgery.
Some Google employees and others have been pushing for SF Pride to drop Google for more than six months. The issue first came up after Vox Media journalist Carlos Maza called public attention to the repeated harassment he was receiving from conservative YouTube commentator Steven Crowder on the platform. Over the course of two years, Crowder routinely used homophobic and racial slurs to refer to Maza.
After YouTube initially said that Crowder’s videos didn’t violate the company’s community guidelines, it ended up penalizing Crowder by suspending his ability to earn ad revenue. Still, YouTube stopped short of removing any of his videos from the platform. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki apologized for the the situation and acknowledged that it was “hurtful” to people in the LGBTQ community, but ultimately defended the decision to keep Crowder’s videos up.
Soon after, more than 140 Google employees signed an open letter asking the organization to drop Google from the Pride parade, and dozens marched in protest of their company’s policies — despite warnings that doing so would violate Google’s code of conduct (generally, punishment for violating the company’s code of conduct can include termination). Protesters said Maza’s case was just one of many examples of members of the LGBTQ community who have been targeted by incendiary speech and left to fend for themselves without support from YouTube.
Six months after the Crowder-Maza controversy in June, YouTube announced changes to its anti-harassment policies and said it would no longer allow content that maliciously insults someone based on intrinsic attributes such as race, gender expression, or sexual orientation. But organizers say that hateful content creators such as Crowder still remain popular on the platform. At the same time, YouTube continues to face pressure from Republican leaders such as President Donald Trump over claims that the video platform censors conservatives.
Despite the spotlight on Google, organizers say they hope their efforts will spark a broader conversation about which companies and institutions should be considered worthy allies to the LGBTQ community.
“Rather than single out Google, we wanted — and still want — to have a deeper conversation about what we expect from companies who participate in Pride,” reads the organizers’ statement. “We believe SF Pride, as an activist organization born of a protest march, should use that power to, as its mission says, ‘liberate our people.’”