BIZ PRIDE:
MARK BAKER


M
ark T. Baker is the senior vice president for public policy and government affairs at Warner Music Group, a key position with responsibility for developing and advocating policy positions on behalf of WMG. A strong advocate for equality in the workplace, Mark was included on Billboard’s 2021 Pride List of Industry-Shaping LGBTQ Professionals; he first appeared on the OUTstanding LGBT+ Executives Role Model List in 2016, and then annually since 2020.


I’m hearing the phrase “inflection point” to describe this year. How does Pride feel to you in 2024?

I would absolutely agree that 2024 is a critical year. But when I think about how long I’ve been doing this—the first time I marched in a Pride parade was 1989 in Austin—a time when it was still illegal in Texas to be gay. The act of walking down the streets down to the state capitol was a political act, an act of defiance, very much in keeping with the origins of Pride. There was a time when the banks didn’t want our business. Now they’re courting us, right? That to me is a testament to how much we’ve progressed. You have political candidates and leaders who are marching with us in Pride, not shying away from us. You’ve got all the things that we wanted to try and do in terms of normalizing our lives. We now see that in Pride.

At its core, Pride is about both protest and celebration, right? One of the beautiful things about Pride is that it’s about that sense of freedom, of empowerment. A big theme for me, from a very young age all the way to what I do today, in terms of working on public policy issues for Warner Music Group, is trying to make things more fair, more just, more equal.

Let me take you back in time. How did it feel in 1989 in Austin, at your first Pride parade?

That was my first public demonstration.

Were you worried that people would see you?

I ended up the next day on the front page of the Austin American-Statesman. I have no idea why. But of all the photos that the Austin American-Statesman chose to run the next day, front page, Mark Baker’s face, and I had this sign that said “HOMOPHOBIA IS HATRED.” I took comfort when I chose to march—nobody’s going to see me… there’s thousands of people out in the streets, right? Well, so much for that theory!

Were you scared?

It took a while to come out to my family. That was a gradual process. But I remember my first piece of advocacy was while I was still in high school. I had to take this course where we watched movies. I asked the teacher, “Are we going to watch An Early Frost?” And his response was, “Oh, no, that’s about AIDS and homosexuality. It’s disgusting, it’s unnatural.” In the course of the semester, he made lots of other anti-gay comments. I remember that on my very last day of high school as a graduating senior, I stayed after class. I was trembling because I was so nervous to confront this guy. And I had little note cards for myself. I told him, “In this course, you said a lot of things that are really anti-gay, and you need to know that I’m gay. And I’m not your only gay student. You’re in a position of authority here, and what messages are you sending to gay students who are just trying to figure it out themselves? Or what about the straight students who are maybe having some gay thoughts and may be confused by all of this? I think it’s really inappropriate.” And he ended up apologizing to every single one of his classes.

That was a very courageous thing to do, and at such an early age. Since you joined WMG, what have you seen about LGBTQ inclusion internally, and what impact do you think the music industry is having on society at large?

At the time that I was considering working here, Warner had only 10 out of 100 on the Corporate Equality Index. So I put that into the conversation with the global head of HR. “What is this score? Tell me about the work environment at Warner Music Group and what should I take away from that?” And she was unfamiliar with the Corporate Equality Index. So I said, “If I come on board at Warner Music Group, one of the things I would be prepared to do is try to get that to a better score.” In my first year, we had to make a few small changes, nothing major, but it gave us 100%. And we’ve maintained our 100% for the last four years running. I’ve had a great experience at Warner Music Group. I haven’t confronted any sort of anti-gay issues since I’ve been here. When I’m talking to some of the LGBT employees, I’ll ask whether they feel like they’ve experienced or observed any anti-LGBT issues in the workplace. And I haven’t really heard any negative responses. It’s a great place to work. And I say that without my execs sitting around behind me.

And what about the impact of LGBTQ music?

We’re in an artistic, creative field. Art is sometimes polemic. It can be offensive; it can be provocative. It’s all part of what art does. As a general rule, as a global company and as a creator of music, I wouldn’t want us not to have our music in a country because of certain cultural attitudes. I think that what we do as a company has a better chance of influencing views and attitudes than withdrawal from an anti-gay culture. So let’s get my Janelle Monáe on video screens across Africa!

Last question: Do you still go to Pride?

I usually lead Pride because I’m in the motorcycle club. And the motorcycles are the first ones in the lead—the women, followed by the men. So absolutely, I always, always try to go.

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