By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – Businesses in Colorado and across the country embrace Pride month with the rainbow flag on their products, in their logos, and displayed on their storefronts but some have questioned recently if that show of support for the LGBTQ community has become a shallow attempt to increase profits. Companies like Pizzeria Locale say they rise above the notion of “rainbow capitalism” by not only donating their money but also committing to the cause all year.

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“It’s all about intention,” said Chris Donato, the brand manager for Pizzeria Locale. “Organizations that want to put up a rainbow logo and try to tap into the revenue that the queer community generates, which is quite significant, that’s not attractive nor is it helpful.”

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The Denver-based restaurant group has a community pizza box program that amplifies an organization and fundraises for them throughout the year. For Pride month they chose Envision : You, a nonprofit working to improve behavioral health outcomes for the LGBTQ community. The boxes feature art from Quána Madison, a board member of the nonprofit, and will be used at their four locations. Donato estimates they will circulate 40,000 boxes with their unique design and more information about Envision : You.

“Over the last 30 years, we’ve seen a lot of progress and on the one hand that’s great,” said Envision : You CEO Steven Haden. “There’s increased recognition, businesses and communities are embracing us in a way that they didn’t just a few decades ago so I’m grateful for that.”

While the voices concerned about Pride becoming too corporate have gotten louder, those familiar with the fight for LGBTQ rights early in the movement, haven’t forgotten when it was a good business practice to ignore the community or boycott any display of support. The buy-in by big businesses does help some people feel seen at a time when it is still necessary across the nation.

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“When you have a large corporation that’s promoting something like Pride and there’s rainbows everywhere, what it does is it gives folks who may not know that there are people like them out there the opportunity to be visible,” said Nadine Bridges, the executive director of One Colorado.

Leaders from local companies and nonprofits agree that the commitment to the LGBTQ community should not only be on display toward customers but also be reflected in the environment employees work under each day. As the largest advocacy group for this community in the state, One Colorado is always looking to make sustainable partnerships with small businesses. Bridges says it is important to see the money these companies make helping good causes.

“We should be asking questions, we want to know are these corporations including LGBTQ community members in the process,” she told CBS4 on Wednesday on a video conference call. “We know that they’re benefiting off this celebration, so we want to make sure once again that they’re accountable to the communities that they’re celebrating. ”

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Pizzeria Locale offers its social media channels to help nonprofits like Envision : You when they are featured on the community pizza box. They also with groups throughout the year, including the local LGBTQ film festival in Denver. Donato says during June people can make sure their money goes to the right cause by seeking out queer-owned businesses and shopping with them during Pride month.

“I think an organization needs to be an ally, that means working with the queer community, partnering with the queer community, supporting the queer community, all year round,” he said Wednesday inside the 9th & Colorado location. “June is nice, it’s a fun time to celebrate, we should be looking back and being grateful for people that are queer have done before us.”

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Advocates say it is important to remember that Pride began as a riot and with each year that the community sees progress, there should be an increased effort to make it a more inclusive celebration. The LGBTQ community is not a monolith and should feature all bodies and abilities coming from every identity, ethnicity, and religion, Bridges said.

“It’s not just about your customers and increasing market share, which I appreciate, but I also recognize what are you also doing for your employees,” Haden said at the same Pizzeria Locale location on Wednesday. “We also recognize that the work doesn’t start and stop in the middle of June, if you’re a company that’s really committed to equity for the LGBTQ community, you’re doing this work year-round.”

Haden launched Envision : You less than four years ago and says the need for mental health services has never been greater. Donato chose them in part because the awareness around the issue has increased significantly since the pandemic. The nonprofit leads programs, public education, training, and advocacy work in this area. Resources that are affirming and relevant to LGBTQ residents remain necessary because many in that community don’t grow up with that kind of support. Youth are kicked out and contemplate suicide, 40 percent of the homeless in that age group are without a home, according to Haden.

“A true ally is going to support the queer community all year round, organizations should be doing that 12 months a year,” Donato said.

The Pizzeria Locale box features a rainbow for Pride as well as black and brown stars to acknowledge the work done by people of color at the start of the gay rights movement. It also represents the need to help connect people of color who feel separated from the LGBTQ community.

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On June 15, Pizzeria Locale will donate 33% of proceeds to Envision : You.

Shawn Chitnis