Rob DeMartini, President and CEO of New Balance Inc
Matt O’Toole, President of Reebok
Motoi Oyama, CEO of ASICS
Richie Woodworth, President of Saucony
I’m sure each and every one of you watched in horror as the news broke in the early morning on June 12 that a shooter had entered a gay nightclub and killed 49 people in Orlando. Within hours, every interest group had reframed the massacre however they wanted to, but for many of us it was very clear: the largest mass shooting on American soil since Wounded Knee took place at a gay safe haven. To me and to many others in the LGBT community this was a terrorist hate crime committed by someone who was, if evidence is true, a self-hating gay man himself.
As a gay man living in America, the massacre in Orlando was shocking, but it wasn't surprising at all. I live in New York City, largely considered one of the liberal bastions of the country, and we see lethal hate crimes all the time. I was once approached with a bat in Brooklyn when an aggressor didn’t want to see me holding hands with a guy I was seeing. This is possible because casual homophobia is prevalent and passively acceptable just about everywhere. But Pride Month, the month of June, is a great opportunity for brands and people alike to stand up against that pervasive poison.
I spent June looking out for word from each of your brands that you would join that resistance, but here in July I see that you again declined to add your voices to those of your peers in support the LGBT community with visible or tangible action.
You’re in the business of people, of humans, so when we’re being murdered you cannot stay silent.
You are the leaders at four of the most exciting brands in footwear, and you are uniquely poised to make positive difference in the world if only you choose to. I suggest that it’s time you did. People are dying in a fight that you're staying quiet about. When we wonder if you think gay lives are valuable, you are silent
The larger brands in this industry aren't. Nike's Be True program has released five collections since its launch, and they’ve endorsed the NBA’s decision to relocate the 2017 All-Star Game in light of North Carolina’s HB2 law. Adidas just completed their second year of Pride-themed footwear. Converse jumped in this June, and others are already working on it for next year.
Being a gay person in America in 2016 and choosing to live an honest life means mortal danger every day. These dangers are exacerbated by the silence of our allies. Even if it's not your intention, in the cacophony of hate the silence of your voice allows theirs be louder.
I know that it might look like a risk to create your own shoes for pride. What if they don't sell? What if people say they won't buy your shoes anymore for standing with the wrong side? I don’t have an answer for you.
There are colorways of shoes that unexpectedly bomb all the time, and boycotts have been threatened for much less. But it’s a trade off. It’s a stand. When I asked Johannes Donath, the Global Head of LGBT Networks at the adidas Group what he says when people threaten to stop buying adidas products because of their stance on LGBT rights, his answer is simple and clear: “We foster diversity and inclusion. Social identities are central to the lives of young athletes, so it’s critical we create inclusive environments for everyone who wants to compete.” When I’m buying a shoe I buy the whole pair. When you’re creating a shoe you’re making it for the whole athlete, or the whole stylist. You’re in the business of people, of humans, so when we’re being murdered you cannot stay silent.
For all I know you have plans ready to go for 2017, and your teams have been telling you these same same things. You are under no obligation to release any shoes you don’t want to, and the gay community certainly won’t act against you if you don’t. But as someone who has supported your brands, and been a part of both the sneaker and gay communities, I urge you to reject the silence and come join our demand for a free and open society.
If you are unsure about how to be a good ally, ask your staff. You have members of the LGBT community in your building right now, working towards your goals and the goals of the company, and helping create incredible products for your customers. Won’t you support them as much as they’re supporting you?
Will you join us? Will you join the rest of the industry by saying you won't stand for this? That you won’t stay silent when lives are lost on the altar of hate. That you are not satisfied that our country isn't yet safe for all people to live openly and honestly. That you reject the current reality that the only way to stay alive is to live a lie.
Tell me our deaths are not permissible to you. Tell me you're with us.