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As Buffalo's Pride Parade grows, more companies take part

After last year's Pride Parade in Buffalo, a board member at Rich Products Corp. arrived at work on Monday and wondered: Why wasn't Rich's in the parade?

This year they were. About 40 employees marched in Buffalo's Pride Parade Sunday, with the company's familiar red logo – on a banner draped across a pickup truck – part of the parade for the first time.

"We’re showing that diversity and inclusion means a lot to us," said senior programmer analyst Mitalee Dixit, one of the leaders of the company's new internal LGBTQ Affinity Group. "Associates have come up to us and are so thankful, and are saying that it’s about time. They are all so excited to be part of Pride. The Rich’s family has been such a big part of the community and have been here such a long time, so now to be a part of this, it just means a lot to a lot of people."

Rich Products was just the latest of many local businesses to show support to Buffalo's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community by marching down Elmwood Avenue from Forest Avenue to Allen Street. Among the more than 150 groups in the parade on a rainy-turned-sunny afternoon were more than 25 companies, ranging from banks to health care providers to wireless services.

"We’ve been getting more and more corporations and groups who have been reaching out to us that they want to participate, which is a fantastic thing," said Robert Baird, director of fundraising and events for Evergreen Health, which coordinates the Pride Parade each year.

"It's really exciting to see more and more corporations are realizing that diversity and inclusion is important to not only elevate their profile in the community but also it sends a message to their own employees that says you have a place here."

That message could not be more meaningful for some employees. M&T Bank, which joined Evergreen as a main sponsor of the parade for the seventh straight year, had hundreds of workers at the parade, some of whom got emotional discussing what it meant for their company to be so involved in the event.

"For me, it’s extremely important as an employee because it shows me that I can be myself and I can be authentic at work and my company supports me in all of that," said Laura Klapper, a member of the company's Pride Resource Group Steering Committee. "That is something that I hold near and dear to my heart, and it is something that keeps me at M&T ... it really is."

That's the reason the bank has been part of the event for over 20 years, Michele Trolli, executive vice president and chief technology and operations officer, said just before the M&T contingent, wearing rainbow-themed T-shirts, began marching.

"It means everything," Trolli said of comments like Klapper's. "The bank is all about employee engagement, and we want our employees to feel like they belong."

Hunt Real Estate agent Brian Szkatulski helped Hunt become the first real estate company to be part of the parade, and now other firms have joined.

"It’s just great to have the support from the family," he said. "We’re very involved with the LGBT downtown community; a lot of the agents are gay. It’s good to have the support of the company, it really is."

As someone who has been attending the parade for 20 years, Szkatulski marveled at how many companies have joined in.

"It’s amazing to see how far it has grown and to see how all of the businesses have gotten involved," he said. "It’s overwhelming as a gay employee to have so many of your other vendors just support you. It’s great to live in a community that supports you all the way around: From the mayor doing Pride Parade, to all the events that they do. … We’re seen.”

Corporate involvement in Buffalo's parade has even had ripple effects far away from Western New York.

When Buffalo employees of Linde, formerly Praxair, shared images of their participation in past Pride Parades, they've received responses from coworkers around the world.

"We got an email from a man in Argentina who was moved to tears because he never thought that he would see something like this," said Ines Stuckert, who works in research and development and is the vice president of the company's Spectrum employee resource group. "Because of doing events like this, it helps our group here, but it also helps us connect with employees in Spain, the Netherlands, Argentina ... in St. Louis, Mo. – because they saw us doing it here, they started doing it in their locations. It's grown throughout the company.

"I think it sends the signal that it’s very important to us to have an inclusive workplace, inclusive hiring practice, inclusive suppliers that we are always for. I think that it’s always great to show corporate support – and it’s corporations that can drive a lot of legislation changes, and a lot of change in communities if we are able to use that pressure. We have a lot of power and privilege that we can use, so it’s really great that we are doing this."

HSBC, which has been involved in the parade for more than a decade, had a large float, featuring a DJ blasting dance music from a flatbed truck.

Thermo Fisher Scientific had more than 50 of its 700 employees marching in T-shirts that played off the periodic table with a "Pd" element, which included an atomic number that paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The anniversary of the event, in which members of the LGBTQ community fought back against harassment from the police in New York City's Greenwich Village in June 1969, was cited in several floats.

The parade had its usual powerful beginning, as representatives from Gay-Straight Alliance groups from local high schools led the parade. The number of schools and students in the parade, like the number of companies, continue to grow each year.

"As a young person in the Buffalo community, I think that the acceptance of this beautiful, beautiful community, by so many big companies, local or well-known, is so important," said Kenmore West sophomore Jianna Billoni. "It's so dope."

Billoni continued: "For all these little kids who maybe are struggling and don’t know what they are going to do, I think that it's so awesome that all these companies that they see every day are like, 'This is OK.' "

Carol McGuire, a junior at City Honors, added that she hoped the companies' intentions went beyond marketing.

"We are young LGBT people who are really trying to find out our sexual identities and our gender identities and just our identities in general as people," she said. "So I really hope they try not to capitalize on it for the sheer sake of profit and do it really out of acceptance."

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