Employee Perspectives

Commodifying a Community

By: Patrick Pfohl, Manager 

Is it just me, or is this year’s Pride Month really rainbow? And I’m not talking about walking through the gayborhood and seeing Pride flags type of rainbow. I’m talking corporate logos, aluminum beer bottles and… mouthwash, type of rainbow?

It seems like every major brand had something to say this Pride Month. And that’s both impressive and distressing, considering just a few years ago publicly endorsing LGBTQ+ people was considered too risky for many brands’ reputations.

But why isn’t it so risky now? Is it because queer-focused narratives are now pop culture dominators? Is it safe to engage now that the contention surrounding same-sex marriage is four years past? Or, is that $917 billion buying power starting to pique some interest?

I don’t mean to sound cynical. I’m genuinely hopeful that the influx of brands hopping on the Pride float is a signifier of a changing, more accepting society. But once June ends, I’m curious to know: Which brands will still align with queer consumers, loudly and proudly? And which will just wait until next year?

Engaging with marginalized communities is a tricky task and if done wrong, can be offensive and harmful. YouTube recently learned this the hard way, receiving backlash for changing its logo to rainbow, while refusing to remove racist, homophobic videos on its platform.

Here’s the thing: Most people outside of the LGBTQ+ community (and even many privileged LGBTQ+ people) look at Pride solely as a party. And while it certainly can be that (and a bunch of other things), don’t we, LGBTQ+ people, earn the right to celebrate?

Unlike corporations or political behemoths, LGBTQ+ people don’t get to walk away from their identity once June is over. We can’t change the fact that more than half of states in the U.S. have zero legal protections from discrimination on the basis sexual orientation or gender identity. Nor can we solve the oppressive systems that drive LGB youth to have a near five times higher rate of attempting suicide than their heterosexual peers. And we certainly can’t bring back the lives of the 10+ black trans women who’ve been murdered so far this year.

That’s why Pride Month is so important at the community level. It gives LGBTQ+ people a chance to sit in their truth, celebrate what has been accomplished and reflect on the current battles we’re facing.

And that’s also why LGBTQ+ support from brands outside of Pride Month is important, too.

If you’re working with a brand looking to engage LGBTQ+ people, ask yourself this:

  1. How does my corporation value LGBTQ+ employees?
    Offering inclusive benefits, internal support organizations and regular D&I trainings is a step in the right direction. But think: Do LGBTQ+ people feel safe to work here?
  2. Does my corporation have a history of LGBTQ+ support?
    If the first time you’re ever engaging with LGBTQ+ people is during Pride Month, reevaluate why you wanted to engage in the first place. If it lacks authenticity, there may be other, more impactful ways to reach an LGBTQ+ audience outside of June.
  3. Can we do more?
    Rainbow logos are nice, but if that’s all you’re doing, or have ever done, how can you elevate it to make a more tangible difference? If your brand isn’t willing to take a strong stance aligned with LGBTQ+ efforts for fear of backlash or monetary loss, it’s a better idea to forego the rainbow.

Brand support during Pride can certainly be fun. But, ensure your brand is doing more than digging for queer dollars. Giving a significant amount of proceeds to LGBTQ+ charities, lobbying for LGBTQ+ issues throughout the year and consistently voicing support of LGBTQ+ people are all tangible ways brands can help break through authentically, while also making a difference in the communities that need it. Plus, they can all be accomplished with, or without, a rainbow.