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Corporations targeting gay market

SAN FRANCISCO — If it takes a queer eye to notice that the cast of Bravo cable network’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” rides in Volkswagens during New York’s gay pride parade, that’s just what the car maker intends.

Similarly, Wells Fargo hopes the crowds attending San Francisco’s gay pride parade get a good look at its employees singing show tunes atop the stagecoach-themed float the bank entered in its hometown event recently.

Despite boycott threats from anti-gay groups and the perception of a gay marriage backlash from the American public, corporate sponsorship of gay pride festivities held around the country in June remains strong this year, according to event organizers and advertising agencies that specialize in reaching gay and lesbian consumers.

From Anheuser-Busch to Bank of America and Avis-Rent-a-Car to Aetna Insurance, mainstream businesses that might have once thought twice about flying their logos alongside the rainbow flag are actively courting a market they consider beneficial, if not essential, to their bottom lines.

“This is a very good, loyal customer base,” said Benet Wilson, a spokeswoman for Delta Airlines, which is sponsoring gay pride festivals in New York, Boston, Cincinnati, San Francisco and its Atlanta headquarters this month. “It’s a great demographic and we think it’s foolish not to cater to that.”

Like Delta, Wells Fargo and Anheuser-Busch — which is one of the biggest supporters of gay pride events through its Bud Light brand — Absolut Vodka, Ford Motor Co., Washington Mutual Bank, PepsiCo Inc. and the Showtime and Bravo cable networks show up in multiple cities during pride season.

Besides contributing cash or products, some corporations get involved by setting up booths where they hand out brochures and prizes or hire rovers to distribute samples along parade routes.

Other companies limit their support to local events, responding to requests from gay and lesbian employees. Minneapolis-based Best Buy, for example, is a sponsor of Twin Cities Pride, while Coca-Cola has participated in pride events in Atlanta, where it’s based.

Held every June, Gay and Lesbian Pride Month marks the June 27, 1969 anniversary of a raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich village. The event — which became known as the Stonewall Riots after the bar’s patrons resisted the police — is a touchstone in the gay rights movement.

The purchasing power of the U.S. gay and lesbian population will hit an estimated $610 billion in 2005, according to a 2004 study by Witeck-Combs Communications, a Washington, D.C.-based marketing firm specializing in the gay marketplace.