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Trend Lightly: We Don’t Need More Rainbows

Alli Simon
June 24, 2020

For the past 49 years, Pride has been a time for those who have felt excluded from mainstream culture to be a part of a community that accepts and celebrates their full beingness.  While the celebration centers around LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning) people, it extends beyond just gender expression and sexuality. Pride uniquely reaches across cultures, body types, races, abilities, and languages, unapologetically exclaiming “you belong here - with us!”

Many people who know about Pride are often unaware of its history. Pride was established to commemorate the Stonewall riots of 1969 – a protest led by Black trans and queer people resisting violence and police brutality. This riot is now remembered by an annual celebration filled with festivals, parties, and civil rights demonstrations.

Like many other national holidays, companies and brands are now jumping at the opportunity to release branded products to appeal to Pride goers – products that often hold little acknowledgment of Pride’s activist roots. In some ways, it marks major steps in the right direction by showing solidarity and inclusion towards the LGBTQ community.  On the other hand, this insubstantial tactic proves just how much America values capitalism and consumerism culture more than the people who risk their lives for the movements they represent.

The business strategy of Pride resembles what is now happening with the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery. Companies are scrambling to voice their support for Black lives in order to avoid being publicly called-out for their silence. As a result, we’ve witnessed brands switching up their marketing strategies to fit in with the cultural movement.

Unsurprisingly, some of these are the same ones who have historically remained neutral in the fight for racial equity and justice or have held questionable business practices towards Black people.  Now that there is growing popularity and support for the movement however, these companies have resorted to quickly releasing an image or statement to express their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Just like with Pride, the insincere  Blackwashing of their corporate image fails to advance equity for Black people in their everyday lives.  

These types of marketing strategies, while often well-intentioned, fail to support the long-term vision of the movement. It’s critical, especially now, that marketers do not return to business as usual. Rather than splash rainbows across your products for the month of June, what if you used Pride season to deeply reflect on your company’s relationship to the movement? 

Take the time to understand what joining the movement, as an ally, really looks like. 

You may start by doing the internal work to learn about the deep-rooted complexities that Black and LGBTQ people face in society. 

What does this type of learning look like? It looks like sharing power and creating internal values that align with the external work you want to appear to be doing. It looks like ensuring that your brand does not perpetuate harm against LGBTQ people. If your company has missteps from the past or has failed to support LGBTQ communities, then Pride month can also be a time to reflect upon how you can do better. 

For example, in 2017, L’Oreal Paris fired Black and transgender model, Munroe Bergdorf, for making comments about racism on her personal Facebook account.  The company stated that Bergdorf’s post was “at odds with [their] values,” yet they publicly supported the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this year. The brand faced tremendous backlash as people rallied behind Bergdorf. On June 9th, The L’Oreal Group made a public apology that included ways they intend to do better, which included re-hiring Bergdorf as a consultant for their UK Diversity & Inclusion Board. This situation illustrates how a brand can show accountability and demonstrate a willingness to receive, reflect, and make better decisions moving forward. 

As a Black and Queer femme, I’m often left wondering - what does this all mean? If companies are taking the time to honor Black and LGBTQ people externally, then why are those values not also being reflected internally? They want to join the movement, but are they truly in it for the long haul or just temporarily supportive so they can continue selling to the masses? 

It’s one thing to be an ally, and another to be anti-racist and anti-homophobic. We must be willing to move past passive actions, into direct, accountable, and intentional actions. Actions that cause lasting change and continue to fuel what we imagine our worlds could look like. Here are some questions you can begin to ask when thinking about being an Ally and aligning your values to the cultural movements for the long-term: 

  • Is your brand thinking about intersectionality?  When developing campaigns for cultural movements, it's important to consider the multiple identities people embody. Are they gender non-conforming and disabled? Their perspective of Pride may include the countless ways Pride festivals are inaccessible and do not permit disabled people to participate fully or easily. If this person is Black, then their experience will be layered with racism and police brutality–two realities that are very much present at Pride festivals. If they identify as Black and Trans, then consider that they are often harmed and erased from media and movements.
  • Who are you supporting? When looking to support a movement or cause (financially or through partnership) take your time to research initiatives that may be lesser known.  Oftentimes, local organizers and collectives are doing important on-the-ground work–with little attention. Use your power and privilege to extend community-based programs that are often overlooked and underfunded and could benefit from your support.
  • What’s your budget? When partnering with movement leaders, who are trusted in their communities, let them know you value their work by being upfront about your budget. Creating transparency about the scope of the project and what you can offer ensures that marginalized communities are not pushed further into economic disparity.
  • Allow leaders to lead: Be collaborative and willing to work with community leaders. You’re seeking them out for a reason, so trust their knowledge and lived experience. They are often closer in understanding to the audience you are further from. 
  • Are you being accountable? Taking accountability should not just happen externally for the public. What are your internal policies and culture? Who is a part of your Executive leadership team? Joining the movement isn’t just about looking good for your consumers, it’s about being a vibrant, ethical business that stands in alignment with the values of people. That must be your first priority.
  • Who is representing your company? For many brands it's also critical to look at who represents your company from an outside perspective. Are you working with a diverse group of influencers? Are your press trips a reflection of how you’d like to present your company? Brands should be producing content that resonates with their buyers, and failing to implement diversity in social media campaigns isolates a potential audience. It’s on trend to be socially conscious, but it’s also just good business.

There is a lot of fear right now that brands and influencers will jump on the Black Lives Matter movement for a short period and then move on.However, the tone over the last few weeks appears to have shifted. There is a sense that perhaps this time, we are ready to confront discrimination and racism at its roots and make lasting changes.

We each have a role to play in leading cultural movements for societal change. Whether we are frontline workers, grassroots organizers, brands or social media influencers, it’s important that we honor the complexities of our individual experiences. Looking ahead, my hope is that we all take the time to dig deep, ask the questions that are needed, and sit with the discomfort in order to move closer towards a world that values everyone.

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