Every June, people’s social media feeds are flooded with Pride-related content as people all over the world celebrate Pride Month—brands included. Like a Skittles commercial, every brand is tasting the rainbow. From bus stops to billboards to boosted Instagram posts, rainbow colours seem to take over every brand’s marketing strategy in order to show their support.
In this blog, we’re going to take a closer look at how companies can authentically support the Queer community and avoid rainbow washing with their Pride-related marketing campaigns. And who better to teach these lessons than LGBTQ2S+ content creators and social media influencers themselves?
There is no doubt that we have come a long way since 1997 when companies pulled their ads from airing during Ellen DeGeneres’s coming out episode of her sitcom. Now, companies all over the world are showing their support of the Queer community—but how do LGBTQ2S+ folks feel about this shift in marketing?
“I’m definitely in favour of Pride-related campaigns, especially ones that include or involve the community and LGBTQ+ talent, but the reality is that Pride isn’t just something you celebrate once a year. It isn’t a holiday. The company should truly embrace and support the LGBTQ+ community and practice what they ‘preach,’ or celebrate, for that matter. So, if they do, and they can truthfully back that statement, then YES. I am totally onside with Pride-related promotions during Pride Month.” -Steven Branco (@mr.stevenbranco)
“I think it really depends on the company and how dedicated they are to the LGBTQ2S+ community. If companies and corporations have always actively supported our community and have shown interest in supporting issues within our community, then yes, by all means, they should execute Pride-related campaigns! But if this is something that’s just meant to profit off of LGBTQ2S+ folk, then no, they shouldn’t.” -Matt Benfield (@mr.benfield)
“I believe that companies that are 100% committed to the LGBTQ+ community and believe in what the community stands for should partake in some form of promotions during Pride Month. The same way companies and corporations have promotions for Christmas and Thanksgiving, I believe that companies should have promotions for Pride as well.” -Kyanna Simone (@thekyannasimone)
There’s a difference between marketing with pride and simply “rainbow washing” when it comes to these colourful advertisements and campaigns during the month of June.
“Rainbow washing is when companies try to show support by throwing a rainbow flag over their logo, hoping to get monetary support of the LGBTQ+ community. Still, in actuality, the company doesn’t have any plans to support the community further than seeking profit over the excitement that Pride Month brings.” -Kyanna Simone (@thekyannasimone)
“Brands don’t want to be left behind, miss out on an opportunity to build deeper connections with their customers or prospects, and they definitely don’t want to be assumed as homophobic, or non-LGBTQ+ supporters. Instead, they want to take the easy way out and just superficially ‘support’.” -Steven Branco (@mr.stevenbranco)
“Rainbow Washing looks at how brands commodity off the identities of LGBTQ+ folks for rapid capital growth in the month of June. Similar to greenwashing in the realm of sustainability, it markets itself as inclusive and freedom for all when in reality, most of these corporations are linked to sourcing their products in countries where it is illegal to be gay. Rainbow washing shines a light that many corporations are focused on the commodification of identities rather than the collective liberation of LGBTQ+ folk’s needs.” -Isaias Hernandez (@queerbrownvegan)
With the global purchasing power of Queer consumers upwards of $3.7 trillion, it’s no surprise that there are some corporations that look to take advantage of the LGBTQ2S+ community with products and merchandise covered in rainbows and Love is Love messaging.
“Some [companies] treat [Pride] like a holiday, or a regular marketing campaign, much like anything else. But it shouldn’t be treated as such. If a corporation, or business of any sort really, is baselessly supporting Pride for the sake of being able to say they did… then they’re doing it for the wrong reasons—and we, the LGBTQ+ community, will take notice! Many brands quickly jump on the bandwagon to release Pride-themed merchandise, like flags, t-shirts, rainbow-coloured anything, and more, just to cash-in on the opportunity or show a token of support. People who are part of the LGBTQ+ community can quickly see when brands are being sincere. No one likes, or wants, to be exploited, or paid attention to just because it is popular, politically correct, or worse..because you’re seeing dollar signs on the opportunity to do so.” -Steven Branco (@mr.stevenbranco)
“I think companies see Pride as something on a list to check off—not the acknowledgment of the injustice towards LGBTQIA+ people. It’s something they do to say they did it and to rid the chances of them becoming “cancelled”. The messaging is very rudimentary and there’s no empathy in it.” -Jade Fox (@iamjadefox)
Rainbow washing is just one of the reasons why certain Pride marketing campaigns might not be resonating with Queer consumers. Here’s some insight into what mistakes companies are making:
“Most brands only hire LGBTQ+ people for June for their collections/ wear, and it often makes me wonder if they genuinely support LGBTQ+ people since we are only “supported” during that month. I believe that if you are going to market yourself as inclusive, then you are making sure to include all body-types, not just thin LGBTQ+ folks. Every person is beautiful and unique in their own way and deserves to be showcased.” -Isaias Hernandez (@queerbrownvegan)
“Not allowing the LGBTQ+ creators and organizations they partner with to speak their truth. When a marketing team is telling a queer individual how to talk about their sexuality and restricting or editing their truth, that is a problem. Some companies see the value in partnering with LGBTQ+ creators and allowing them to take the lead on the creative—this, in my opinion, leads to a much more authentic partnership and in-turn benefits the brand. Unfortunately, some do not. Scripted pride content is not the goal.” -Breanne Williamson (@breannewilliamson)
“I think companies can go wrong with their campaigns when the ball is dropped with the transgender community. Too often, companies love to promote their inclusivity by showcasing a lesbian couple or a gay couple but rarely include a transgender couple in their campaigns. If a company wants to be inclusive to all LGBTQ+ people, they must include transgender people as well.” -Kyanna Simone (@thekyannasimone)
“I will criticize brands for ignoring the Black and Brown Trans and Queer people that were the pillars of the movement. Many of the images I see from brands surrounding Pride seldom have Black, Brown, and/or Trans faces.” -Jade Fox (@iamjadefox)
Of course, it’s important for companies to show their support of the Queer community during Pride Month through their marketing campaigns! But is it the right decision for you?
“I think companies need to first focus on their internal community before promoting to the external community. Does your Pride campaign message line up with how your organization/brand is running? Do your employees represent the same diversity that you are claiming to support? If the answer is yes, then I think vocalizing support through campaigns can be a great thing.” -Breanne Williamson (@breannewilliamson)
“It has to mean more than slapping a rainbow on your full-priced merchandise to promote performative allyship to LGBTAIQ+ people and ignoring the lack of representation and awareness within your conference rooms.” -Jade Fox (@iamjadefox)
“I think rainbow washing is something that a ton of corporations succumb to during Pride Month. They believe that showing “solidarity” through a Pride flag on their logo or on their Instagram page is enough to have a Pride marketing campaign. But it’s really everything BEHIND the rainbows that matters. What are you actively doing as a corporation to support the LGBTQ2S+ community. Are you donating a certain portion of proceeds to organizations? Are you hiring queer designers and marketers to support your campaign? Are you amplifying LGBTQ2S+ voices through the campaign or just speaking on their behalf? These are questions that I think many brands brush over when putting together Pride campaigns.” -Matt Benfield (@mr.benfield)
There are a wide variety of steps companies can take in order to identify themselves as true supports of the Queer community. Here are just a few:
Allyship doesn’t end when Pride Month is over. As June comes to an end, it’s important to take a step back and evaluate how your company can continue to support the Queer community after the Pride celebrations are over.
“I truly believe in allowing the LGBTQ+ community to invest in their interests and pursue their passions. Brands are often a huge platform to be able to amplify a variety of LGBTQ+ folks, but it shouldn’t be the case that only during June we become relevant. I think it’s important that we realize from also an actionable step that if you are making merch related products for Pride that you are also amplifying the voices of the LGBTQ+ community.” -Isaias Hernandez (@queerbrownvegan)
“Hold yourself accountable and show up for us year-round. Are you reaching out to LGBTQ+ folks to collaborate year-round or only during Pride Month? If you only reach out when you have a rainbow logo, then that is very telling.” -Breanne Williamson (@breannewilliamson)
“Follow the same steps as they did during Pride. Keep that momentum and those inclusive conversations going all year round.“ -Harrison Browne (@hbrowne24)
“If there is no tangible action or intention to truly serve and promote the LGBTQ+ community, it’s not enough. You can’t simply put out a short blurb or throw a rainbow flag on some merchandise. There needs to be action, proceeds or donations made to LGBTQ+ organizations in need, mentorship programs for LGBTQ+ employees, etc. “ -Harrison Browne (@hbrowne24)
“We must ask ourselves first of how brands are supporting the LGBTQ+ community. If they are actively working to promote openness and freedom of identity, then they need to ensure that their supply chain is also transparent in protecting their workers and paying them a fair wage. We cannot solely rely on brands capitalizing on the identities of LGBTQ+ Folks for just a month, and we need to make sure that we are continually working with the LGBTQ+ community.” -Isaias Hernandez (@queerbrownvegan)
“Put your money where your mouth is! If you’re a company with a lot of profit, put that profit to work for our community during Pride and all year round.“ -Matt Benfield (@mr.benfield)
“I don’t think companies understand that being pro-LGBT is a lifestyle that carries into the workplace, it’s something that should be mentioned in orientations and employee handbooks. It should be required that employees know microaggressions toward LGBT people is a fireable offence. Pride shouldn’t only be a customer-facing initiative for brands. I love to see companies celebrate the contributions of their LGBT staff because it provides tangible support to the community—which is where many of them miss the mark. You have to give back, not just take.” -Jade Fox (@iamjadefox)
“Start including LGBTQ+ people in the room, throughout conversations about the LGBTQ+ community, and what their company can do to support them. Outwardly support the community without being in fear of losing the support of other people.” -Kyanna Simone (@thekyannasimone)
“I would focus not only on continuously supporting LGBTQ2S+ organizations monetarily throughout the year, but looking inward at your own corporation. How many members of the LGBTQ2S+ community make up your senior management team? Do your workers feel safe expressing themselves during work or are they scared to be their true selves? What can you do to fight for quality on a daily basis, while you go about your daily operations? These are questions that should be asked in every single corporation that wants to help out our community.” -Matt Benfield (@mr.benfield)
Don’t be afraid to show your support of the Queer community during Pride Month, but remember that there is always more that you can be doing as a company. Take the lessons you’ve learned from past mistakes and apply them to any future Pride-related marketing.
“Anytime that a brand genuinely uses their influence and declares that they are an ally to the LGBTQ+ community we are moving forward.” -Harrison Browne (@hbrowne24)
“Practice what you preach, don’t just say that love is love, and that you support BIPOC, hire them, support them, empower them, and together, WE can make the change we need to better support the community to become one.” -Steven Branco (@mr.stevenbranco)
“We have to be clear as a community where the line is. If brands just march in the Pride parade and again, take part in rainbow washing, they haven’t done enough & should not be supported. But if throughout the years, brands really do work hard to be allies to the LGBTQ2S+ community, then that’s amazing for our community & the issues we champion.” -Matt Benfield (@mr.benfield)
“Companies shouldn’t be afraid to support humans. It’s as simple as that.” -Kyanna Simone (@thekyannasimone)
Thank you to the LGBTQ2S+ content creators and social media influencers who took the time to contribute to this project. Please give them a follow and continue to support the amazing work they do all year round.
Happy Pride! 🌈
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