Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has moved to take down a website and local billboard that takes aim at the company’s “woke” business efforts in promoting racial and LGBTQ diversity.
The website, called “Southwoke,” photoshops Southwest officials’ faces on people wearing rainbow-colored outfits and different hairdos. There’s a blog on the page that discredits the value of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and lists anti-diversity and anti-LGBTQ stances.
The billboard along I-35 southbound in Burleson has a person dressed in drag attire and a ‘Southwoke’ airplane reads: “Either way we’ll drag you on board.”
“These groups and individuals have begun to target businesses, especially those businesses that uphold their values of diversity and inclusion and stand with our community,” said Jared Todd, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign in an email. “They’ve said that this is about making Pride and inclusion ‘toxic.’ The throughline, from a historic year of anti-LGBTQ legislation to backlash against companies, is the same tired playbook of fear-mongering and bullying that we’ve experienced for decades now.”
At this time, no one has taken credit for the website or billboard. The domain is registered with Tucows Domains Inc. and the owner’s information has been redacted on the Tucows public website “for privacy.”
Opponents of diversity initiatives, especially those that support LGBTQ rights, have been calling out companies like Target and Anheuser-Busch. The movement has seeped into state Legislatures as well.In Texas, lawmakers passed bills to ban gender-affirming medical care for minors, restrict transgender college athletes and ban drag shows in front of kids. All three bills sit on Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
“An arbitrator ultimately found the website was a parody and thus cannot be taken seriously,” Mainz said. “We do not agree; the person or persons behind the website and the 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 while working to minimize awareness of the sensational content.”
Southwest’s public opposition to the pushback stands in direct contrast to other companies that have acquiesced to conservative pressure not to support LGBTQ rights and diverse hiring practices.
Retailer Target also pulled LGBTQ merchandise from its Pride collection in May citing a backlash that threatened workers’ safety, according to The Washington Post.
Other companies, like Anheuser-Busch, have received criticism and boycotts from conservative commentators and celebrities after TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney promoted a beer contest. After seeing the decline in sales, the beer maker announced that two of its executives were taking a leave of absence and that it would focus its future marketing campaigns around sports and music, not standing by its promoter, according to The New York Times.
In Florida, where lawmakers have expanded on the “Don’t Say Gay” law, according to NBC News, Gay Days, an annual event for the LGBTQ community and allies to gather at Disney World, has received an increase in emails and social media messages from guests saying they aren’t participating because of “what’s going on.”
Organizers say they expect a sizable crowd in spite of the threats.
Ahead of Pride Month, the Human Rights Campaign and over 100 partner organizations called onthe business community to reject and speak out against anti-LGBTQ extremism.
In a statement, the coalition said, “Recent pushback against businesses such as Anheuser-Busch and Target, blatantly organized by extremist groups, serves as a wake up call for all businesses that support the LGBTQ+ community. We’ve seen this extremist playbook of attacks before. Their goal is clear: to prevent LGBTQ+ inclusion and representation, silence our allies and make our community invisible.”
Todd with the Human Rights Campaign said there’s been an ongoing fight against a coordinated attack from an extreme ideology that “wants to see us pushed back in the closet.” Companies need to lead in this moment, Todd said. Pointing to the North Face and Adidas, which have stood by their commitment to advertising support for individuals in the LGBTQ community, Todd said companies like Target need to stand up to the bullies.
“Sometimes allyship is uncomfortable, especially when values are tested,” Todd said. “Companies should know that it’s not a great look, nor is good for business, to give credence to bullies.”
Meanwhile, Southwest is standing by its commitment to diversity by taking legal action.
The Dallas carrier has a diversity council that was founded in 2007, with 135 members in 2022. Last year, the carrier introduced inclusion-focused wearable pins, optional for all employees to wear on their uniform. There was also a push for requiring diverse candidate slates for all open leadership positions, according to Southwest’s 2022 diversity report. All Southwest leaders are required to complete in-house diversity training, as well.
Of Southwest’s senior management committee, a voluntary self-identification campaign revealed that 94% of its executives are heterosexual or straight, 3% are lesbian or gay, and 3% declined to say.
Cece Cox, CEO at Resource Center in Dallas, said thousands of businesses and corporations are doing this work. She connects it to the “civil rights victories” that have happened over the years, like the reversal of restrictions for women or people of color, and marriage equality.
“What corporations are faced with, what we’re all faced with, is we have the opportunity to strive for democracy, which is a place that values a variety of voices and experiences,” said Cox, who heads the LGBTQ advocacy and health organization.
Cox said efforts that are made to better understand one another are necessary.
“There’s a million reasons why companies should be doing this work that is labeled ‘DEI,’ but it’s really about human beings connecting,” Cox said.