Fifty years ago, on June 28th, 1969, a black trans drag queen threw her heels at police officers during a routine raid of The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. This is one of the rumored incidents that ignited the now famous Stonewall Riots, what has come to be known as the single most important event to bring the fight for LGBTQIAGNC (LGBTQ+ for short) rights to the forefront of U.S. society.
A lot has changed since they threw those heels a half century ago. The anniversary of those tension-filled riots has now become a cause for celebration. Now, the entire month of June has been dedicated to celebrating all things LGBTQ+. This weekend’s NYC Pride March brought a crowd of 4.5+ million people. A small town in Utah now hosts its own Pride parade. Five hundred people walked, which is 10% of the town's entire population. Almost any gay person could walk into a mall and think ‘Yaaaas, I AM proud’.
And, of course, with these growing celebrations has come a new kind of Pride parade, one of brands coming out and showing their support for the cause. And it’s fab. It’s something many of us thought we’d never see. But, the more brands that hop onto the bandwagon (which is, of course, made up of drag queens and sequins) the more I wonder, is this actually helping to move the fight for our rights along any further. Or is this just a way for these brands to bring in more customers and make a buck off the back off of those who have felt judged, misunderstood, and even hurt for being who we are?
When I can grab a rainbow coffee cup at every cafe in the city, and my bagels suddenly have the entire Pantone color palette baked into them, the question must be asked on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community: where are these brands when Pride month is over? Each June, as we swim in a sea of rainbow branding, it becomes harder and harder not to feel like Pride month is turning into corporate appropriation, and just another annual holiday that brands attach themselves to, instead of remembering what Pride is really about.
Because let’s not forget. There’s still a lot of hate out there. We’re not equal yet. Let’s not forget that what started all of this 50 years ago was a fight. A bloody brawl for our rights.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of brands did a great job like Harry’s‘Shave With Pride Handles,’ and Ikea’s limited edition ‘Kvanting Bag’ (where 100% of their profits go to The Trevor Project,- a million dollars since 2012).
Google also did phenomenal work with Stonewall Forever, a ‘living monument’ website that tells the history of The Stonewall Inn, and the narrative it provides for modern day LGBTQ+ rights. It’s an incredible move by a brand that shows its understanding of Stonewall Inn’s roots, and looks forward to the future of the cause.
I get it, not everyone has the same deep pockets as Google, but when a brand is financially benefiting more from their ‘Pride Lines’ than the people and its cause, that’s when I think this kind of support is a problem. Calvin Klein for example, is selling a ‘Pride Edit’ of 5 Jockstraps for $59.50. The brand shares information on how much has been donated to their chosen LGBTQ+ charity: The Human Rights Campaign. Sweet, but I wonder how much of a cut Calvin Klein is keeping in their voluptuous back pockets.
The support is evidently needed, and as the Pride rainbow passes, there are a few ways that it can be done without the need of Google's budget or Calvin’s Jock straps:
Educate your audience
Let your audience know why you’re changing your social media content, or making your profile picture a rainbow. Explain why it matters to the brand, and tell your audience what the future of Pride will be on your channels, and in your campaigns.
Continue to be an ally
It’s never been easier to say something to the world. Continue to tweet, post, and blog about what your brand is doing to support the community, and the community will continue to support you long after June.
Be sure to give a knowledgeable percentage of "Pride Earnings" towards a charity dedicated towards helping the LGTBQ+ community. That way, brands can become a long-term partner with one of these charities.
As advertisers and marketers, we have a massive influence on how people view the world. It is our responsibility to support the idea of more loving communities throughout the year, and do more than just making something rainbow and calling it "Pride". Continue to look at everything you do in or outside of work through the lens of love.
Sam Canvin is the art director at Barker.