BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
"Even though the economy shows everyone is cutting back, gay people are cutting back less," said Bob Witeck, CEO and co-founder of Witeck-Combs Communications in Washington, D.C., which specializes in gay strategic services.
Recognizing gay buying power, many major U.S. businesses continue to court the market. Task Force/Winter Party sponsors now include American Airlines, Hewlett-Packard, Best Buy and Showtime Networks.
"This year, we are doing well in terms of corporate sponsorships and exceeding our goals," said Russell Roybal, The Task Force's deputy executive director of external relations.
"Our corporate partners are very important to us. They provide a certain legitimacy to our cause that sometimes isn't reflected by our elected leaders," Royball said. "The corporate world seems to be a little bit further ahead in recognizing the importance and value that LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people bring to American society."
Seventeen years ago, American Airlines began marketing itself to gay consumers, said George Carrancho, leader of the airline's gay "Rainbow'' team.
"Even during the down economy after 9/11, we have a dedicated person to the market, which does have a significant return," Carrancho said. "These are business decisions we're making. Granted, it's the right thing to do, but at the end of the day it's the smart thing to do."
Carrancho said gay men and lesbians generally have more disposable income than their straight counterparts, but not because they earn more.
"It's D.I.N.K.," he said. "Double income, no kids."
Another reason why companies covet gay and lesbian consumers, according to Carrancho: ``The gay community is loyal to businesses that market to them."
Showtime Networks has created gay-oriented programming since 1984, said George DeBolt, senior vice president for media, promotions and partnership marketing.
"We have a very rich history. In the mid-'80s, we had a show called Brothers, which was about a family with a gay sibling," said DeBolt, who is gay. "In the late '90s, we had More Tales of the City and Further Tales of the City."
In the 2000s, Showtime broadcast two of the most popular gay-themed series in TV history: Queer as Folk and The L Word. Later this year, the network will debut a reality show based on its popular lesbian series: The Real L Word.
In addition to the Task Force and Winter Party, Showtime also supports gay pride events in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles and is a national sponsor of Human Rights Campaign, the United States' largest gay-rights group.
"We are very supportive of this market. This market's been very supportive of us," DeBolt said.
About 10,000 gay visitors are expected this week for Winter Party. Showtime will distribute promotional gift bags those who attend the festival's main beach party on Sunday.
Best Buy -- which now has stores in gay-popular South Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Key West -- will also participate in the Miami Beach Gay Pride festival on April 17.
"We're definitely trying to get involved in the community," said Carlos Serrano, operations manager for Best Buy's new Miami Beach branch on Fifth Street. "So far, it is paying off. The community definitely likes shopping in our store."
Serrano is co-chair of Best Buy's Pride Employee Business Network in South Florida. The local gay-employee chapter has 35 members, he said.
Not only is Best Buy marketing itself to gay adults who have money to spend, the company recently held Geek Squad workshops for gay South Florida teens who need jobs.
"They're reaching out to youths," said Enrique Alvardo, 18, a William H. Turner Tech High student who attended a Best Buy workshop last week at gay-oriented Pridelines Youth Services.
"I applied for a job," Alvarado said. "Gay people have to earn a living, as well, just like regular heterosexuals."
PHOTOS BY CARL JUSTE / MIAMI HERALD STAFF
Top photo: Craig Smith, 50, of El Portel, left, checks out the HP Touchsmart as John Byrn, senior district sales manager for HP, center, demonstrates the new HP products at Winter Party’s Welcome Center at the Doubletree Surfcomber Hotel. William Marquez, 22, right, of Best Buy, looks on.
Bottom photo: Smith and Byrn.