For over a year, Elon Musk has railed against what he calls the “woke mind virus,” which is perhaps now best defined as anything other than far-right politics. More narrowly, the “anti-woke” culture warriors with whom Musk has found common cause are focused on antagonizing companies that appear to support the LGBTQ community in any way, shape, or form — including Anheuser-Busch, Nike, and Target.
Musk added more fuel to that fire last week, sharing a Fox News article that insinuated Target was funding the integration of “gender ideology” in schools by donating to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), an organization that works to cultivate safe and inclusive learning environments where students aren’t bullied or harassed for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
But Musk’s affinity for homophobic and transphobic propaganda is relatively new, and his car manufacturer, Tesla, used to roll out Pride Month promotions like any number of companies that conservatives today denounce as “woke.” This week, many Twitter users began resurfacing Tesla ads and merchandise aimed at LGBTQ customers, jokingly calling on Musk’s right-wing fanbase to boycott the brand. (Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the company had plans to mark the occasion of Pride this June.)
Tesla was manufacturing Pride-themed cars as late as 2022, and it wasn’t just the marketing team that thought to make inroads with LGBTQ consumers, who wield an estimated $3.9 trillion in purchasing power globally, with almost a quarter of that money concentrated in the U.S. Up through last year, Musk himself touted Tesla’s record of LGBTQ equality as rated by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index, and in 2018 even chided with a Twitter user (since suspended) who voiced displeasure over a Tesla tweet celebrating Pride Month.
“‘Virtue signaling’ is super annoying & there are lots of phoneys who are actually huge jerks, but jump on every social cause du jour,” he tweeted at the time, adding that Tesla had not needed to make any internal changes to get a perfect score by the HRC’s metric of workplace inclusivity.
Just weeks after he bragged about another 100/100 rating on the LGBTQ equality index in 2022, Musk revealed that Tesla’s Pride campaigns probably weren’t much more than virtue-signaling after all: a round of layoffs in late June reportedly included the leader of the company’s LGBTQ employees and a head of diversity and inclusion.
The contradiction provides a case study in how companies profit from championing progressive causes while failing to materially support them, a practice that critics have called “woke-washing.” Shortly after Musk embarked on his quest to buy Twitter in 2022, he seemed to acknowledge the cynicism of such a business strategy, sharing a meme that warned of the storm of rainbow brand logos to be expected in the Pride Month ahead. But the post was widely interpreted as anti-LGBTQ in general, and Twitter users were quick to point out Tesla’s own history of capitalizing on Pride.
Well, Musk doesn’t have to have it both ways anymore. Now that he openly sides with the extremists who believe that gays are “grooming” children and drag shows are turning them trans, Tesla striking a pro-LGBTQ stance or not is something of a moot point. At least we can thank its chief executive for demonstrating how hollow those gestures of solidarity often are.