We must remember that the origins of Pride are rooted in a series of protests, many of which were spearheaded by Black trans women. We owe our freedoms to these women, and thus, we owe it to them to push forward accurate, intersectional representation of the LGBTQIA+ community. We owe it to them to not only move beyond rainbow washing, but also beyond the whitewashing of this community and its history.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, cities across the world have rightfully cancelled their parades and instead have pivoted to virtual parades and parties. But this stands to amplify the rainbow washing and whitewashing problems Pride faces in “normal” years. People and brands come together for a one-and-done, all-out celebration, changing their logos and donating a few dollars, only to be forgotten days later. How can we ensure that our understanding and representation of the LGBTQIA+ community is accurate, intersectional and sustained—a need that has been further spotlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement?
This community is uniquely positioned to celebrate, despite the circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 crisis. This community is used to holding the tensions of joy and struggle. We celebrate wholeheartedly while we fear for our lives returning home from those celebrations. We dress up, we dance our hearts out, we literally parade in the streets while running the risk of being ridiculed or attacked.
Aside from the violence, this is a group of people that might be stuck in unsafe homes right now, unable to escape the pressures of who they are not. It’s also a population that is disproportionately homeless or immunocompromised. According to a poll by the Human Rights Campaign and PSB Research, 17% of LGBTQIA+ people have lost their jobs because of Covid-19, compared to 13% of the general population. And these numbers are more dire for people of color.
We need more than a telethon, more than a virtual parade.
The world has moved from 50,000 audience concerts with fireworks to kitchen cabarets shot on an iPad. We’ve gone from counting down the days to our summer trips to counting the hours to our walks around the block. We’ve pivoted from planning Michelin-starred dining experiences to trying our hand at Grandma’s family-famous meatballs. And these small pleasures all felt just as thrilling. We no longer have the big moments, and so we’ve started noticing the little moments.
Perhaps in order to celebrate Pride, we need to pay attention to the everyday moments of the LGBTQIA+ experience. When I asked people what their favorite memories from Pride are, they recalled being reunited with a long-lost friend on a crowded street, their grandmother offering to iron all of their rainbow regalia, hearing a man on the train telling his daughter, “There’s a special party happening today celebrating love.”
These are decidedly simple things. None of the responses were about the fanfare. They were about the feeling. They were about connection, expression, friendship, feeling seen and heard. They were about smiling through tears. They were about the tension of the hurt and the joy, the past and the future, being able to hold both at the same time.
Companies who are able to rebuild their businesses in a way that uses these nuanced, intersectional experiences and tensions to support their LGBTQIA+ employees and consumers in a meaningful, sustained way, will be the ones who win.
Align your policies, hiring practices, representation in executive leadership, benefits, and internal culture to support your LGBTQIA+ employees. Listen to and amplify the small ways their identity benefits your work and culture. And then go a step further to stand with your employees outside of the workplace by taking action like supporting legislation in the places you operate.
Elevate LGBTQIA+ voices during every stage of the creative process to be sure these experiences shine through in not just your Pride campaigns, but in non-Pride related work (because, news flash, queer people/couples do most of the same things straight folks do). Then test these campaigns with diverse LGBTQIA+ people outside of your company, especially the most marginalized, underrepresented members of this community.
Don’t just launch your Pride campaigns and activations in major, progressive cities, do so in markets where they will rock the boat and make people uncomfortable, because that’s where visibility is most needed. Brands cannot play it safe when they are advocating for the safety of a vulnerable group of people.
In a time where brands may not even go as far as making their logos rainbow, we need brave companies to advocate for a community who needs even more support than ever.