SCHENECTADY — The iconic GE sign at the foot of Erie Boulevard has been switched over to rainbow colors for the rest of June to mark Pride Month.
Each of the bulbs — about 112 for each of the six colors — was swapped out by hand Wednesday and the sign was first illuminated as a rainbow that evening.
It is lighted from 6 p.m. to midnight and is a huge addition to the proliferation of LGBTQ pride rainbows on display around the area.
It seems to have struck a chord: One person after another stopped to take photos of it Thursday evening. One rolled right up to the entrance barrier in his car, one stood on the middle railing on the pedestrian bridge over Edison Avenue, one took the risky move of stopping in a driving lane on I-890.
“It’s great to see … beautiful,” said Chad Putman, co-chair of Schenectady Pride, who looped around off the highway when he first saw it Wednesday.
“When I was coming around 890 there, I was shocked and I literally pulled over in front of GE and started taking pictures.”
The joy of the initial surprise segued to him wondering about how much actual LGBTQ support GE was putting behind the display. He threw the question out on his Facebook page as he posted his photos and he got many replies, but nothing definitive along the lines of, “I know what’s in GE’s heart and it’s —.”
Putman doesn’t himself have an answer to whether GE is foursquare behind the LGBTQ community.
“The trend [in corporate America] is definitely there and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that corporations have recognized that they have LGBTQ staff,” he said.
But there needs to be continual and full support and inclusion, not just in June and not just when it’s convenient or lucrative, he said.
Regardless, the rainbow “GE” was amazing on first sight and remains a great symbol, Putman added.
“I’m appreciative of the shoutout,” he said. “I think it’s important.”
GE fell short of a 100% rating on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2020 Corporate Equality index, which rates LGBTQ equality. It got a 90%.
But the company has identified diversity and inclusion as a goal.
Locally, the management team at the sprawling GE campus on the Schenectady-Rotterdam border asked the facilities team if the landmark could be converted to a rainbow.
With 668 purple, blue, green, yellow, orange and red light bulbs, it could.
“The lighting display shows our commitment to building a world that works for everyone,” GE spokesman Todd Alhart said.
The sign’s round GE monogram logo is (for now) a rainbow 36 feet in diameter. The white letters below it are each 10 feet tall, and spell out the company name 168 feet wide.
In another sign of the times for one of Schenectady’s most famous landmarks, the 1,399 bulbs are now energy-efficient LEDs.
For the longest time the sign was illuminated with 25-watt incandescent bulbs, which use much more electricity to produce the same amount of light as an LED.
General Electric last year updated gender identity and sexual orientation in the voluntary self-identification categories for its U.S. and Canadian employees, in hopes of building a better profile of the diversity of its workforce.
GE has already produced reports on the race, ethnicity, gender, disability status and veteran status of its workforce: In 2020 in the United States, 24.2% of its workforce were members of a racial or ethnic minority, 10.1% were veterans and 3.1% had a disability. Worldwide, 22.3% were female.
GE states that its Pride Alliance welcomes employees who identify as part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual, and intersex community and their allies. The alliance raises awareness around LGBTQAI+ issues and provides support and advocacy for creating inclusive work environments at the company, GE says, and also promotes its commitment to developing LGBTQAI+ talent.