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Queer activism and corporate sponsorship

AIDS Walk organizers thankful for business community support

Starbucks staff form a team in the 2011 AIDS Walk for Life. Credit: Katie Toth

Jim Stone wants people in all pockets of Toronto to understand that AIDS affects everyone.

 
That’s why, says the event chair of this year’s Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life, working with for-profit companies on events like the Sept 25 walk is crucial.
 
“Our marketing campaign this year is extremely straight up about the statistics,” Stone says. “We’re bringing this information to the family dinner table, the classroom, the corporate environment, whatever it might be.”
 
Stone says the $430,000 raised at this year’s walk is important, but so is corporate money.
 
And financial support from big companies comes in big numbers. The producer of top-selling Italian wine Santa Margherita presented $68,000 to this year’s Walk for Life.
 
Stone says the ubiquity of brands like Scotiabank and the availability of Santa Margherita allows the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) to reach out in an accessible way, one that can get people talking about AIDS, and help eliminate stigma.
 
“You go to an ATM with Scotiabank and you can see they are supporting the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life,” he says.
 
Scotiabank has signed on to be the event’s primary sponsor through 2014.
 
“They provide us with, yes, monies, but they also have the outreach to a much, much larger and diverse demographic… they get the fact that all of Toronto needs to know,” says Stone.
 
He emphasizes that for-profit support is more than an annual one-off donation. 
 
“Santa Margherita has been with us… for over five years, and they are visionaries,” says Stone. “Monies from the purchase of that product [at the LCBO] go directly to frontline programs. They were the first group ever to do something like that.
 
“We couldn’t afford that kind of marketing, so we can piggyback with them and that brings us to new audiences.”
 
Santa Margherita’s export manager, Bruno Zaratin, says the relationship has been beneficial for everyone involved.  
 
“We were looking to support a charity, one more or less to our size,” he says, noting that the Canadian Aids Society awarded Santa Margherita its corporate leadership prize in 2010.
 
“We have been the first non-Canadian entity to win this award,” he says. “We plan to be in this for a while.”
 
However, not all queer groups court corporate support. In fact, other organizations have been pilloried for it.
 
Pride Toronto, for example, has been criticized for becoming too corporate.
 
This year, activists challenged the connection between the corporate world and community organizing, creating a new march, Stonewall TO, which aimed to highlight the political side of Pride.
 
“As far as I’m concerned,” said Sasha Van Bon Bon, an organizer of Stonewall TO, earlier this year, “it’s time to kick them [corporations and government] out of bed and get back to community organizing… we are so brilliant and so capable of doing that on our own.”
 
But Stone thinks the relationship between ACT and for-profit corporations has been enriching. “They bring another skill set and another audience so that we together reach out even further.”