Anti-‘woke’ group targets Southwest Airlines for pro-LGBTQ and DEI efforts

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has moved to remove a website and local billboard that targets the company’s “woke” business efforts to promote LGBTQ and racial diversity.

The website, called “Southwoke,” photoshops the faces of Southwest officials into people wearing rainbow-colored outfits and different hairstyles. There is a blog on the page that debunks the value of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and lists anti-diversity and anti-LGBTQ stances.

The billboard along southbound I-35 in Burleson features a person dressed in drag attire and a ‘Southwoke’ plane saying, “Either way, we’ll drag you on board.”

“These groups and individuals have begun targeting companies, especially those companies that uphold their values ​​of diversity and inclusion and support our community,” Jared Todd, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, said in an email. “They’ve said it’s about making Pride and inclusion ‘toxic.’ The common thread, from a landmark year of anti-LGBTQ legislation to backlash against business, is the same tired playbook of fear and intimidation we’ve experienced for decades.”

At this time, no one has taken credit for the website or the billboard. The domain is registered with Tucows Domains Inc. and the owner information has been redacted on the Tucows public website “for privacy”.

Opponents of diversity initiatives, especially those that support LGBTQ rights, have criticized companies like Target and Anheuser-Busch. The move has also leaked into state legislatures. In Texas, lawmakers have passed bills to ban gender-affirming health care for minors, restrict transgender college athletes and ban drag performances in front of children. All three bills sit on Governor Greg Abbott’s desk.

A billboard showing a “Southwoke” plane and a person dressed with the words “Either way, we’ll drag you on board” seen along I-35 in Burleson on Friday, May 26, 2023. (Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

In an email, Chris Mainz, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines, said the airline filed a complaint about the Internet domain, but the website’s registrant did not respond or identify who was behind it.

“An arbitrator ultimately found that the website was a parody and therefore cannot be taken seriously,” Mainz said. “We disagre; The person(s) behind the website and billboard do not represent what we stand for as a company, and the content includes hurtful images and language. We continue to explore legal remedies as we work to minimize awareness of sensationalized content.”

Southwest’s public opposition to the pushback is in direct contrast to other companies that have acceded to conservative pressure not to support LGBTQ rights and various hiring practices.

Retailer Target also removed LGBTQ merchandise from its Pride collection in May citing backlash that threatened the safety of workers, according to Washington Post.

Other companies, like Anheuser-Busch, have faced criticism and boycotts from conservative commentators and celebrities after TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney promoted a beer contest. After seeing sales drop, the brewer announced that two of its executives would be taking leave and that it would focus its future marketing campaigns around sports and music, without endorsing its promoter, according to The New York Times.

In Florida, where lawmakers have expanded the “Don’t Say Gay” law, according to NBC News, Gay Days, an annual event for the LGBTQ community and their allies to come together at Disney World, has seen an increase in emails and social networks. messages from guests saying they are not participating because of “what’s going on”.

Organizers say they expect a sizeable crowd despite the threats.

Ahead of Pride Month, the Human Rights Campaign and over 100 partner organizations called for the business community to push back and speak out against anti-LGBTQ extremism.

In a statement, the coalition said: “The recent pushback against companies like Anheuser-Busch and Target, which are shamelessly organized by extremist groups, serves as a wake-up call for all companies that support the LGBTQ+ community. We’ve seen this extremist playbook of attacks before. Their goal is clear: prevent LGBTQ+ inclusion and representation, silence our allies, and make our community invisible.”

Todd of the Human Rights Campaign said there has been a constant fight against a coordinated attack from an extreme ideology that “wants to see us put in the closet.” Businesses must lead right now, Todd said. Pointing to North Face and Adidas, which have remained committed to supporting LGBTQ people with advertising, Todd said companies like Target need to stand up to bullies.

“Sometimes the alliance is uneasy, especially when values ​​are put to the test,” Todd said. “Businesses need to know that it’s not great looks, nor is it good for business, to give credit to bullies.”

Meanwhile, Southwest is upholding its commitment to diversity by taking legal action.

The Dallas airline has a diversity council that was founded in 2007, with 135 members by 2022. Last year, the airline introduced inclusion-focused, optional wearable pins for all employees to wear on their uniform. There was also a push to require diverse slates for all open leadership positions, according to Southwest’s 2022 diversity report. All Southwest leaders are also required to complete internal diversity training.

Of Southwest’s senior management committee, a voluntary self-identification campaign revealed that 94% of its executives are straight or straight, 3% are lesbian or gay, and 3% declined to say so.

Cece Cox, executive director of the Resource Center in Dallas, said thousands of businesses and corporations are doing this work. She connects it to “civil rights victories” that have occurred over the years, such as the repeal of restrictions for women or people of color, and marriage equality.

“What corporations are up against, what we are all up against, is that we have an opportunity to fight for democracy, which is a place that values ​​a variety of voices and experiences,” said Cox, who runs the advocacy organization and LGBTQ health. .

Cox said that efforts to better understand ourselves are necessary.

Southwest has also been named to Forbes’ 2022 Best Employers for Diversity in America list and earned a perfect score in 2022 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.

“There are a million reasons why companies should do this work labeled ‘DEI,’ but really it’s about human beings connecting,” Cox said.

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