Hey, queer people, listen up: Chevron is totally cool with you, and that’s super cool of them! At least that’s the message Chevron is sending this month, as it lines up its advertising to once again celebrate Pride. But Chevron’s Pride celebrations can’t hide the fact that the politicians the company props up each year to defend oil and gas in Washington, DC, are often at the forefront of the GOP’s fight to oppress LGBTQ rights.
Like thousands of companies with a thirst for rainbow branding and trigger-happy social media accounts, Chevron kicked off this year’s Pride Month with a special tweet.
“This month marks 30 years since the founding of our PRIDE network,” the company tweeted on June 1. “To celebrate, we’re holding a series of joyful events that highlight intersectionality and honour our personal identities and experiences that make each one of us unique.”
Chevron attached a cute little graphic to the tweet, showing cartoon workers above a rainbow band, including two people fixing a pipeline with the caption “acting for allyship.” (Looking at it broke my brain, and I had to lie down for a little bit.)
On the one hand, the post is not exactly surprising. Brands are always notoriously thirsty to hop on the rainbow-themed float each June, no matter how awkward the fit, and Chevron is no exception. The company hosted ravey-style, PG-rated Pride parades in Houston for a few years and touted its inclusivity in recent ads, including some run outside of Pride month, natch. CEO Mike Wirth even hosted a rainbow-flag-raising ceremony on the company’s campus in 2019.
Chevron’s employee LGBTQ group actually has a pretty robust history at the company, which is prominently featured on their website; an admittedly moving video produced by Chevron documents how a band of five employees came together in the early 1990s to form the group and announce their existence to their employer (which, I mean, good for them).
Unfortunately for Chevron, there’s not a lot of pride in being an oil company. Fossil fuel money, more often than not, ends up in the pockets of the politicians who also make it their goal to oppress the LGBTQ community. For years, oil companies’ success has depended on having politicians in power who can perpetuate climate denial and fossil fuel apologia in Washington, DC.
That has meant donating to the GOP — the party that, incidentally, has also tried to block pretty much every fight for basic rights the LGBTQ community has waged in recent decades. Chevron is no exception: The company has donated millions to GOP Senate and House leadership PACs in the past few election cycles, helping to keep homophobic and anti-trans politicians in the GOP in power.
Chevron’s donations to individual politicians have real consequences for the LGBTQ community the company is so eager to claim it supports. During the 2019-20 cycle, for example, Chevron’s PAC donated $US10,000 ($12,826) — usually the maximum amount a PAC can give to one candidate per year — to 29 House members, 26 of whom are Republicans. (It’s also kicked smaller donations to largely Republican politicians as well.)
In 2019, the House voted on the landmark Equality Act, which would provide sweeping protections for LGBTQ people in various areas of life (including protection against discrimination in the workplace). Of those 26 Republicans Chevron maxed out donations to, all but two voted against the bill (one, Rep. Kevin Brady, sat the vote out). Rep. Jodey Arrington, one of the Chevron-funded lawmakers, said at the time of the 2019 vote that he voted against the Act because “it would force girls to compete against boys in sports and put women at risk by allowing men access to rape crisis centres, ladies’ locker rooms and other female-only facilities.”
Chevron cash recipients Rep. Don Bacon, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Rep. Dan Crenshaw also publicly tied their opposition to the Equality Act to the nonissue of transgender women and girls competing in sports. Maxing out donations to these politicians is sure a funny way for Chevron to “highlight intersectionality.” But then again, their value to Chevron isn’t to protect LGBTQ people, but to do oil and gas’s dirty work. (Crenshaw, if you’ll recall, was also a key perpetrator of lies about wind energy’s role in February’s Texas blackouts).
Fast forward two years, and this type of rhetoric has become commonplace among the GOP thanks to leaders like McCarthy and rising stars like Crenshaw normalizing it. Moreover, state-level U.S. Republicans have introduced and passed an astounding number of bills in recent months designed to block healthcare and create invasive new regulations for trans people.
Many of these bills premised on the strawman argument of concern for women and girls in sports that Arrington and his Chevron-funded colleagues have voiced in the past. Obviously, none of Arrington’s original statement is true, but that collection of dog whistles for anti-trans conservatives has helped drive state-level push.
In 2021, the House voted again on a near-identical version of the Equality Act; this time, only one politician Chevron maxed out its donations to voted for protecting LGBTQ people, while everyone else voted against the act. It’s pretty clear that those seeking equality are just cannon fodder for Chevron. (The company also isn’t alone. Dark money groups and donors who have pushed climate denial like Rebekah Mercer and the Heritage Foundation are also working to prevent the Equality Act from being passed into law, according to new reporting by the Daily Beast on Wednesday.)
Greenwashing is technically defined as misleading consumers on the environmental impacts of a specific product, using advertising to convince them that something is better for the planet than it actually is. I’d argue that Chevron’s excitement at promoting its Pride program is one step above basic greenwashing. It’s an attempt to humanize a company that has played a major role in destroying the Earth.
And the company really needs a PR win now. Just last week, Chevron’s own investors voted against the company to force it to provide a more detailed accounting of its emissions. The company has also come under increasing scrutiny of activists for its refusal to pay up a $US9.5 ($12) billion bill owed to Amazon tribes and instead focusing on destroying the life of the lawyer who beat the oil giant in court. As oil and gas companies face increasing public pressure, I imagine we’re only going to see more of this kind of greenwashing that centres the human aspects of oil and gas companies.
The ironic thing about all of this is that in the grand scheme of oil and gas companies — and, frankly, most American corporations — Chevron actually seems like a pretty good place to work if you’re queer, thanks, no doubt, in large part to the employee organising in the early 1990s. The Human Rights Campaign has consistently given Chevron (along with Shell and BP) perfect scores on its annual Corporate Equality Index. (At the start of the decade, by contrast, Exxon’s equality rating was so low that it had a negative score).
As early as 2005, the company had a policy in place for transgender employees, titled “LGB and T: Transgender at Chevron.” The document is, in many ways, ahead of its time, and was used on the Human Rights Campaign website for years as an example of industry best practice.
I’m happy that, if Chevron’s marketing materials are telling the truth, its queer and trans employees have found a safe place and community at a time when it was incredibly difficult to be out at work (and I’m rooting for those Chevron employees who have found that space now, when it’s still difficult for so many LGBTQ people to move safely and openly in the world).
A company standing up for its queer employees may have been impressive 30 years ago, but we’ve learned a lot since then. Now, an embattled oil and gas company bragging about its track record in providing basic human rights and decency for people who work there hits a little differently. For Chevron, each rainbow-branded tweet or social media post this month is serving to cover up how it continues to feed money to politicians who advance legislation and rhetoric that makes it unsafe for queer and trans people to exist — and how its products are running the planet for everyone.
If this is what Pride is about to Chevron, I want no part of it.