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  1. Opinion

Does a corporate-branded Pride parade show how far we've come?

Motorcyclists participate in the 2018 St. Pete Pride Parade down Bayshore Drive on Saturday, June 23. [Times (2018)]
Motorcyclists participate in the 2018 St. Pete Pride Parade down Bayshore Drive on Saturday, June 23. [Times (2018)]
Published Jun. 20

For the first time in the history of the St. Pete Pride Parade — the city's loud and proud celebration of diversity and the LGBT community — a corporate brand will be part of its official name.

Yes, coming Saturday, it's the Tech Data St. Pete Pride Parade, a title that, okay, not everyone is in love with.

But isn't debating this a milestone in itself? Maybe even a good problem to have?

First things first: Monetizing, capitalizing, branding and making a buck by slapping a corporate name on anything that stands still — Guaranteed Rate Field, the Pepsi Superbowl Halftime Show, Quicken Loans Arena and who can forget the ridiculous local mouthful that was 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheater — has become the American way.

But quick — can anyone who begged for beads at this year's Gasparilla recall its official name? Me neither. Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest, it turns out.

And seriously, has anyone ever actually said: Hey, thinking of taking the kids over to the Ashley Homestore Children's Gasparilla presented by Chik-fil-A Tampa Bay? Because yes, that's an actual name.

But Pride is not a sports arena. It's not a pretend pirate invasion, either. History and hard-fought milestones got St. Petersburg to what is the biggest Pride celebration in Florida, second in the Southeast only to Atlanta's.

This year's Pride commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, when the LGBTQ community pushed back against police abuse, the beginning of a movement. Only four years ago it became legal across America for people to marry whom they wanted.

It's not hard to see why some find the branding the parade distasteful, even offensive. Imagine a Tech Data Martin Luther King Jr. Day, one observer said. And don't think someone in corporate America hasn't considered something along those lines.

But you've come a long way when your event is so valuable a company will pay to have its name on it, whether for business exposure, solidarity in spirit or some combination of both. Pride's executive director has pointed out that such sponsorships help subsidize registration rates for people to be in the parade, and that those rates are low compared to similar events.

And you can't argue that Largo-based Tech Data doesn't walk the walk, literally, with more than a thousand employees and family members planning to march in tomorrow's parade. Two floats, too. The company regularly gets a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign's yearly corporate equality index.

Fifty years after Stonewall, a company wants its name on a celebration of Pride.

Now here's a thoughtful compromise: Organizers of Tampa's smaller Pride event told Times reporter Josh Solomon they might consider a sponsorship, but not changing their name outright. Maybe: Name Of City Pride Parade sponsored by Whatever Company? With that, there's less implication that the business is more important than the event. Or that the event is somehow owned.

Is all this name-based branding we do tacky? To some sensibilities, inappropriate? Sure.

But the fact that we're having this conversation could also be seen as another milestone. Even a point of Pride.

Contact Sue Carlton at scarlton@tampabay.com.

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