Historically, the gay community has been associated with left-leaning politics and has been suspicious of “big business” and capitalism. Some of this is the result of the Communist Party links of some early Mattachine Society members, some was due to anti-gay policies within industry at the time, and some was simply due to the attitudes of the youth in the 60’s and 70’s when the gay rights movement began.
For many years there was a general assumption on the part of “gay leaders” that government would mandate rights and equality for gay people and that business would fight them all the way. However, in recent years there have been circumstances where that assumption seems to be backward. The support in the fight for equality now seems to come as often from business as it does from government.
In recent years there has been a growing trend of Business taking an advocacy position in favor of equality, especially in the workforce. It was Big Business that funded the fight to overturn Cincinnati’s anti-gay city ordinance in a 2004 vote. It was Microsoft’s confirmation of support for non-discrimination laws that influenced the vote necessary in Washington. In the small Utah town of Kanab, the local businessmen are waging battle with the city government over a definition of family designed to exclude gay people. And in Minnesota, the presidents of 50 “creative class” firms sent Governor Pawlenty a letter requesting that he oppose an anti-gay marriage amendment. The management of Kraft, Ford, and Bank of America are all fighting against anti-gay motions brought by stockholders.
But one story that has got little attention is a small-town dispute in Santa Clara County in California:
Los Altos is a quiet community neighboring San Jose. Although part of the Silicon Valley and in the midst of one of the nations largest metropolitan areas, Los Altos still maintains a small-town atmosphere.
In 2004, the Gay Straight Alliance of Los Altos High School requested that the City Council proclaim a day in June as Gay Pride Day. Although it was initially resisted, the proclamation was finally granted and the kids celebrated with a pizza party. No one else noticed much.
In February of this year the GSA made their request again and this time they were denied. Los Altos Mayor Ron Packard said he considered gay pride proclamations “divisive and not appropriate to our community”. And not only did the City Council say “No!”, but they changed the rules to not allow the request to be submitted again. Ever.
Then the GSA got some unexpected champions. A group got together at the Chamber of Commerce to get involved. Now instead of a Gay Pride Day, there will be a parade through the center of town.
Technical assistance is provided by the coordinator of the annual City of Lights Parade. Los Altos Community Foundation is sponsoring the GSA to reduce insurance costs. Los Altos service clubs, school boards, businesses, religious groups, the League of Women Voters and individuals got behind it. The Foothills Congregational Church of Los Altos will be sending a float to the parade. Contributions are coming in from citizens and businesses to pay for the event.
Now students from Los Altos High will be joined by students from the Gay Straight Alliances at high schools in Atherton, Mountain View, Palo Alto and Sunnyvale.
The Los Altos High GSA has to return to get permission to use city streets for the parade. Should the City Council resist, the County has offered to shut down Foothill Expressway, a major local thoroughfare.
Confounded by city officials either hostile to gay youth or fearful of the revenge of the anti-gay activists, the kids found allies in their local business communities. Let’s hope the trend continues.