Charlottesville, Va.’s LGBTQ Pride Festival, to be held Saturday, hit a bump in the road earlier this month after a Pennsylvania hat printing company declined to print merchandise with the group’s “political or controversial” message.
“We don’t have a lot of places to get rainbow stuff, it’s not like living in D.C., believe it or not,” said Lisa Green, director of Cville Pride, in a phone interview with the Blade.
Green and a small cadre of Charlottesville locals started the first Cville Pride six years ago. She said the event runs on a shoestring budget, but it thrives because of the community and the support they get from vendors.
So Green was shocked when they attempted to get hats printed with their logo, a borrowed version of Equality North Carolina’s “Y’all means All” icon, and the distributor for a longtime local vendor said they wouldn’t do the work.
The local company, Red Star Merchandise, had worked with and supported Cville Pride for years, but the company that prints its hats, Hanover, Pa.’s Legacy Athletics, sent an email saying it would not do the work because it aims to “keep a positive connotation to the brand” and part of that process is “avoiding doing any products with custom logos that might be deemed as controversial, political, offensive, etc.”
A look at Legacy Athletics’ website shows the company specializes in college and casual custom clothing and hats. No images available on social media show products with an overtly political message.
The Legacy email, published on Cville Pride’s website, goes on to say that the company does not “ either support or do not support the organization making the request” but “in light of recent events in Charlottesville as well as the fact Gay Pride events are political activism, we respectfully decline this order.”
Charlottesville made headlines in August when a “Unite the Right” rally brought Neo-Nazis and white supremacists to the otherwise quiet town. They had ostensibly planned to protest the removal of a Gen. Robert E. Lee statue in a centrally located park and were met by counter protesters. They were eventually dispersed after Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called a state of emergency. One woman, Heather Heyer, was killed when an attendee of the Unite the Right event barreled into a crowd of protesters with his car.
That connection between Cville Pride and the deadly attack that still hangs over the city is something that really bothered Green.
“The response isn’t just about us being gay, it’s also about Charlottesville,” she said. “It’s tainted in both ways.”
In an email sent to Green by Red Star, the printing company said it expressed “disappointment” with Legacy’s decision. But they also promised Green they’d no longer work with Legacy on “any further orders and will make others aware.”
Green, with a mission to spread an affirming LGBTQ message, said she’s since heard from a number of folks who have offered to supply the event with hats. She also said that’s not really what’s important.
“Trump is in office and we had Nazis in our town — this [issue with Legacy] is so small, but it’s just evidence of the systemic problems we continue to have,” she said. “We have people really hurting in Charlottesville after everything that has happened. But it’s just evidence that we’re still in this fight. No one needs a hat, right? But we have to get to a place in society where LGBTQ lives are protected by non-discrimination laws.”
Despite efforts by lawmakers, Virginia still lacks laws that protect LGBTQ citizens from discrimination in public services — as well as housing and employment — but Cville Pride’s situation is similar to one faced in Kentucky that made its way to the state’s appellate court earlier this year.
Hands On Originals, a Lexington-based printing company, refused to print T-shirts for a local Pride event and organizers fought back. While Kentucky as a whole does not have protections for LGBT people, the city of Lexington does, but in May of this year, a state appeals court sided with Hands On because the person who ordered the T-shirts for their event was straight, therefore he wasn’t discriminated against because he wasn’t gay.
Jennifer C. Pizer, Law and Policy Director for the national LGBT legal advocacy group Lambda Legal, called the Kentucky decision “silly” and said the situation Cville Pride is facing has some similarities but is different where it counts.
“[Legacy Athletics] categorically decided something about LGBT people is controversial. If that’s true, it’s only because anti-gay people make it controversial,” she said. “LGBT people just want to exist, have a celebration and not bother anybody.”
She said the excuse used by Legacy does more to silence and exclude others and that the idea of giving power to those who want to exclude is “a mistake socially and a mistake under the law.”
It seems Green and Cville Pride have enough work on their hands and are choosing to move on with their event, which happens Sept. 16 at the Sprint Pavilion in Downtown Charlottesville. The only reason she decided to go public with the issue was to inform others who might change their buying habits from Legacy in the future.
Redstar Merchandise said it would not comment further.
Legacy Athletic released the following statement to the Blade:
“Regarding our decision not to produce hats for the 2017 Cville Pride Festival, we want to emphasize Legacy is neither anti-gay nor discriminatory in any way. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our company is primarily a college and resort apparel brand. As our company’s popularity has grown, we continue to receive requests from all sorts of clubs, organizations and event planners with requests for putting their logos on our branded apparel.
“Recently, we implemented new guidelines and policies to help us manage this influx of requests. These guidelines and brand standards will ensure we stay committed to our core brand.
“As a company, our policy includes the thoughtful and deliberate decision to avoid orders that may be potentially perceived within the realm of political and social activism on either side of the ideological spectrum. A decision to reject graphics that could fall into these realms in no way means we agree or disagree with the organization’s mission, but that we simply want to remain neutral in all situations.”