*By Spencer Feingold* Smirnoff Vodka is hoping to welcome the thousands of visitors from around the world that are expected to travel to New York City this weekend for the World Pride march with its latest Pride marketing campaign. Early this month, that company launched its "Welcome Home" campaign, which includes pop-up events throughout the city, two limited-edition Smirnoff No. 21 Pride bottles, and financial support to Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBTQ civil rights group in the U.S. “We’re a brand that is sold in over 130 countries around the world and that means we know just how many challenges the community is still facing,” Jay Sethi, Smirnoff’s vice president of brand marketing in North America, told Cheddar. “So for the time that they are \[in New York\], we want them to feel at home.” The company, whose storied history began 155 years ago in Russia, has partnered with actress and LGBTQ activists Laverne Cox, RuPaul's Drag Race star Alyssa Edwards, and Jonathan Van Ness from Netflix’s ($NFLX) Queer Eye. “What I love most about the gorgeous new Smirnoff 'Welcome Home' campaign is that she shines a light in on how Pride is more than just a party; it's truly a home to our LGBTQIA+ brothers, sisters and non-binary siblings around the world," Van Ness said in a statement. Van Ness is also hosting the House of Pride event organized by Smirnoff and its parent company Diageo ($DEO) in New York’s Soho neighborhood. The event will be held from Wednesday to Friday and feature several tents “Insta-worthy rooms” that honor the history of the LGBTQ community. “It will be a celebration of how far this community has really come and yet how far we still have to go,” Sethi told Cheddar. Yet Smirnoff is not just paying homage to the plight of LGBTQ people because it is Pride month, Sethi said, adding that the company’s support for the community is “in its DNA.” The company is also showing its support financially, pledging to donate nearly $1.5 million to HRC by 2021. “These crucial resources will help fuel the fight for LGBTQ equality and accelerate the pace of progress in the years ahead,” Chad Griffin, HRC’s president, said in a statement on Smirnoff’s support. The company has also received a perfect 100 percent score on the HRC Corporate Equality Index for over ten consecutive years. “I think the liquor brands have always done a good job \[at honoring Pride\],” Joseph Anthony, the founder and CEO of the marketing firm Hero Group, told Cheddar, adding that corporate support for the LGBTQ community should extend beyond the month of June. Sethi said that Smirnoff’s commitment to the issue is evident in Cox’s year-round marketing partnership. Cox “did her homework. She wanted to make sure that we were authentic, and that we really represented the community's interests,” he added. In a statement, Cox said she hopes her work with Smirnoff “celebrates not just the LGBTQIA+ community here in New York but also recognizes those across the globe, celebrating in their own way. Hopefully with a delicious vodka cocktail in-hand, of course!"

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