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Activists Protest Seattle Pride Over Sponsorship From Groups With Ties to Anti-Trans Bathroom Bills

A coalition of LGBTQ leaders wrote a letter to Seattle Pride this week urging the event to drop a local business alleged to have anti-gay ties.

In a letter sent on Monday, 10 activists called upon Seattle’s Pride organizing committee to drop New Seasons Market, a Portland-based grocery store partially funded by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. The letter refers to the Murdock Trust as “a major funder of anti-LGBTQ groups and other institutions,” further alleging that it has supported “anti-transgender initiatives, gay conversion therapy, and the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing a business to discriminate against gay customers.”

“We should not allow any corporation to use Seattle Pride to market products while its profits benefit groups that discriminate against its own LGBTQ employees, customers, and members of Seattle’s community,” said the signatories, which included Danni Askini of Gender Justice League, George Bakan of Seattle Gay News, and Monisha Harrell of Equal Rights Washington.

In a phone conversation with INTO, Northwest Accountability Project Executive Director Peter Starzynski claimed that the Murdock Trust has been connected to New Seasons for almost a decade.

“New Seasons Market is majority owned by a private equity firm called Endeavour Capital,” Starzynski said. “And the Murdock Trust invests in Endeavour Capital and all the Endeavour Capital funds, including the funds that manage New Seasons. Profits gathered from New Seasons benefit these funds and that will end up benefiting the Murdock Trust, which will in turn give that money to its grantees, some of which include anti-LGBTQ groups.”

One of the groups funded by the Murdock Trust is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the right-wing law firm responsible for drafting anti-trans bathroom bills in over a dozen states. The ADF has also fought inclusive policies in school districts across the U.S. allowing transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.

According to its website, the Murdock Trust has given nearly a million dollars to the anti-LGBTQ organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This included $375,000 in 2016.

In a statement, a representative for the Murdock Trust said that the 40-year-old organization works with a “broad array of groups and individuals,” claiming that its programming “[supports] more than 3,000 organizations through more than 6,400 projects with close to a billion dollars in capacity-building grant funding.”

“It is impossible to agree with every stance taken by every grantee or every statement made by every volunteer or staff member or every project pursued by every organization,” spokesperson Colby Reade told Patch. “Disagreement happens.”

The Murdock Trust also took issue with the characterization that it funds the entirety of ADF’s work. The charitable foundation claimed that the grant was awarded with for one project, which would help universities in the Pacific Northwest “draft policies that allow students to fairly and safely express their first amendment rights.”

“This is neither an endorsement nor denouncement of any work undertaken by ADF or any of our other grantees,” its spokesperson claimed. “The Murdock Trust does not endorse any specific political agenda.”

But LGBTQ activists point out that the ADF—which has compared businesses being forced to serve queer and trans people to being forced to serve members of the KKK—isn’t the only anti-equality group that the Murdock Trust funds. The Oregonian reports they have also backed the Portland Fellowship, a conversion therapy program preaching “freedom for the captives.”

“We believe that freedom from homosexuality comes through a person: the Lord Jesus Christ,” the Oregon-based organization states on its website.

Conversion therapy, the discredited practice of seeking to “change” an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, has been condemned as harmful and ineffective by nearly every leading U.S. medical association—with survivors experiencing extreme risk of suicidal ideation. The treatment has been banned by 13 states.

Starzynski said watchdog groups must continue to expose the myriad anti-LGBTQ groups linked to the Murdock Trust, which he claimed includes far-right organizations like Focus on the Family and the Heritage Foundation.

“The anti-LGBTQ movement isn’t coming out of nowhere,” he claimed. “Someone is funding these organizations. Too often they operate in the shadows, they don’t tell you who they’re funding, or you have to dig deep to figure out who these organizations are. It’s important that we know where this money is coming from and that Pride takes a clear stand on organizations like the Murdock Trust.”

Seattle Pride did not respond to requests for comment on this story, and activists claimed they have not been accountable to calls for transparency in the past.

Last year 12 LGBTQ activists were arrested after shutting down Seattle Pride in protest of corporate sponsors like JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo, which were involved in funding the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. In protest, the city councils of both Davis, Calif. and Seattle ended contracts with Wells Fargo—which cost the bank more than $3 billion in lost business.

Wells Fargo is no longer affiliated with the Seattle Pride event, but Chase remains listed as a “Silver Sponsor.”

In an emailed statement, New Seasons Market claimed it would continue to sponsor this year’s Pride celebration in Seattle, claiming the business is “not influenced by any individual investor or fund.”

“Endeavour Capital is the majority shareholder in New Seasons Market, managing in excess of 50 investors in the fund that holds an ownership interest in New Seasons,” spokesperson Julie Teune told INTO. “These investors include major Pacific Northwest pensions, endowments and philanthropies such as the pension plans for the States of Washington and Oregon, the Universities of Washington and Oregon, and the Portland Art Museum. The Murdock Trust is just one of these investors at a small 1.5 percent.”

“We recognize that some businesses and organizations will disagree with our donations to progressive causes,” she added. “We also recognize that others will make donations that do not align with our values.”

Teune noted that the company offers inclusive healthcare benefits to LGBTQ employees, including transition-related care for transgender workers. Meanwhile, she claimed that New Seasons had been honored with the Oregonians Against Discrimination Award from the advocacy group Basic Rights Oregon in 2016 for its “leadership on transgender equality in Oregon.”

But Michael Andrew, the secretary-treasurer of Pride at Work Washington, claimed in a phone interview that these business relationships are a classic example of LGBTQ activists often call “pinkwashing.”

It’s pretty typical for organizations which don’t give a damn about the LGBTQ community to become sponsors of Pride parades and put up rainbow flags during Pride month,” Andrew told INTO. “And yet when you look at their policies and some of their ownership, they’re not [LGBTQ friendly].”

The relationship between the business community and LGBTQ Pride Month has become an increasingly hot-button issue in recent years. After at least a dozen activists were arrested outside the historic Stonewall Inn last year for protesting the corporatization of Pride events, New York City activists launched a Reclaim Pride coalition in 2018 to “take back” the yearly celebration from what they feel is corporate exploitation.

Meanwhile, a recent New York Times article pointed out that a significant portion of Pride merchandise—from retailers like Target and H&M—is made in countries which outlaw same-sex relationships. Primark, a leading manufacturer of Pride gear, makes its apparel in Myanmar, where homosexuality is punishable with up to life in prison.

Andrew said that the change needs to start with groups like Seattle Pride, arguing that it’s incumbent on the organizing committee to vet the entities with which it does business.

“The Pride parade is supposed to be a statement about our community—a coming together of all the strands of LGBTQ life in celebration,” he claimed. “How is it appropriate for businesses that’s tied financially to anti-gay funders to be part of the Pride parade? I just can’t see it.”

Seattle Pride will be held on Sunday, June 23.


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.