Feature

Pride 2020: LGBT+ titles and sponsors ensure the show goes on, virtually

There's no question that 2020 hasn't lived up to expectations with the coronavirus outbreak pulling the plug on major events around the world. First came the Olympics, then Glastonbury, and before we knew it hearts across the globe lay devastated at the news that Pride parades were off until 2021. While the reality is hard to sugarcoat, it hasn't hindered LGBT+ media brands, parade organizers, and LGBT+ brand allies going above and beyond to make up for it.

​The month of June is finally upon us. This time last year, from New York to London, São Paulo to Tel Aviv, the LGBT+ Pride movement was in its stride, with unprecedented numbers of volunteers, artists, and supporters poised to descend on streets, to march in solidarity.

Equally as much a celebration as a protest, 'Gay Christmas' as it's sometimes referred to, is the one time of year where people from all demographics, race, religion, and sexual orientation can come together and celebrate acceptance, peacefully.

Any hope that Pride parades might be exempt from the clutches of coronavirus were dashed in March, when one by one, each parade body took to social media to announce their deepest regrets.

However, it was never the case that Pride 2020 would not take place — it was more a matter of how. 2020 still marks Pride’s golden jubilee. It's been ​50 years since the inaugural pride parade in 1970, and 51 years since the Stonewall Riot, where members of the black LGBT+ community stood up against police brutality and oppression.

As Pride Month and Pride Lives Matter unite in solidarity, rather than succumb to the disappointment, a number of LGBT+ media brands, Pride bodies, and LGBT+ brand allies are welcoming this unique moment in time, to amplify queer rights.

The show must go on(line)

“I don't think any of us thought we'd be in this position,” shares Brent Miller, Procter & Gamble (P&G) associate director, global LGBT+ equality - the first to hold the position at the multi-brand conglomerate.

“Last year’s Pride was an overwhelming public display of visibility for the community. The challenge that we have this year is to maintain that visibility and use the momentum of Pride to help people connect to the community,” he contends.

While it’s hard to sugarcoat the disappointment, LGBT+ media brands and Pride organizers have been busy planning throughout lockdown, proving the pandemic to be a welcome shove into the foray of digital festivals.

Pink News was first off the mark, announcing its Pride plans back in March, and today (4 June) marks the first day of ‘Pride for All.’ Running across its website and social media channels, the digital event intends to bring the LGBT+ community and its allies together through a range of interactive and original content including Q&As with celebrities, influencers and activists, panel discussions, music sessions, drag tutorials, lenses, and filters. There will even be a virtual pride march.

Condé Nast’s LGBT+ brand Them has also ventured online, programming ‘Out Now Live’ - a programme of virtual events that include performances, speeches, storytelling, as well as messages from prominent members of the LGBT+ community.

The digital event builds on the success of ‘Themfest’ - a virtual music and arts festival Them created for the LGBT+ community back in late March.

“From the day we were sent home, within a week we started noticing essential LGBT+ community spaces shuttering up, compromising their income,” Them’s executive editor Whembley Sewell details of the mag’s rapid response.

“So we immediately put together 'Themfest' as a point of levity, but also as a point of coming together. We hit the ground running with that. And, obviously, when it came to Pride, we had to act just the same.”

Billed as '2020Capsule: A unique year in Pride, documented' - today (4 June) Gay Times has unveiled its plans for Pride 2020. It intends to capture this moment in history by collating a capsule to document the experiences, challenges, unity, and advocacy from this exact moment in time - to share with future generations.

To do so, Gay Times will work with community and commercial organizations to capture the experiences of LGBT+ people, through the medium of poetry, photo essays, letters, short films, and playlists. The Pride capsule will be donated in full to Queer Britain as part of its exhibition archive.

With physical parades out of bounds this year, event organizers have scrambled to host virtual marches in its place.

A megaphone for the LGBT+ community in the UK, Pride in London announced back in January that it was in full-ideation mode, as it mapped out 2020 plans with a new agency in tow.

Yesterday (3 June) alongside its agency Anomaly, it announced this year's theme - #YouMeUsWe - a cry out to all LGBT+ people to support one another and stand in solidarity as a community.

As the UK’s largest Pride event, it has introduced a digital community hub with hopes to galvanize 30,000 people into ‘acts of allyship’ for those in other LGBT+ groups.

To mark the unveiling of its 2020 theme, Pride in London released a film that highlights the experiences of an array of queer Londoners, who speak candidly about their relationship with Pride, how they have been affected by its cancellation, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the community.

Can online make up for the loss of physical parades?

“One thing that I think far too often goes ignored is the fact that not all Pride's are accessible. Whether it comes to age, to people with anxiety, to people with disability - in having a virtual pride and trying to make it as big and bold and bright as possible, you really enable people from all walks of life to engage with it in a new way,” explains Them’s Sewell on the benefits of a digital Pride.

“In some ways, I’m surprised we haven’t been doing this all along,” she adds, noting that while in previous years, major activations would take place mainly in New York City and Brooklyn, ‘Out Now Live’ is truly global in its reach.

During lockdown, traffic to Them's US site has grown considerably. At the close of last month, its unique visitors count was up 137% year-on-year, after receiving 1.27 million unique visitors in April, and 1.36million in May which were among the brand's highest ever traffic months.

She explains that being digital also means they can have talent from all around the world. Bob the Drag Queen, Vogue UK editor Edward Enninful, Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon, model Naomi Campbell and Whoopi Goldberg, are among the participating talent that will be dialing in from around the world.

In a similar vein to Sewell, Asad Dhunna, founder of the consultancy The Unmistakables and former director of communications at Pride in London, feels the main advantage of a digital Pride is that it can be global-by-design.

“The reach of a global Pride cannot be beaten by local Pride and the opportunity to feel part of a truly global community is on offer for the first time ever,” he states. “It can feel more accessible. Some of the criticism of Pride is a feeling that you have to look a certain way, work for a certain company, be part of a certain class. Digital Prides negate that.”

However, he feels that digital Pride offerings could never replace the physical event. “So much of what Pride stands for is the community coming together to be visible to the mainstream. That might be regulars who meet friends and their chosen families just once a year - there’s a reason they call it 'Gay Christmas.’”

A trick of the light?

As with many high-profile movements, brands see World Pride Month as an ample opportunity to unleash their inner ‘woke’ and like the rainbow (a trick of the light) each year brands are found guilty of pinkwashing.

Among major brand blunders over the years, we’ve had the distasteful M&S LGBT+ sandwich, Budweiser's demi-sexual drinking cups, alongside ample helpings of rainbow logo changes, with no houses in order.

Following a swathe of corporate messages in solidarity with Black Lives Matter this week, customers will be scrutinising brands even more closely this year, with calls to ensure any Pride communications herald intersectionality and inclusion.

In the wake of recent protests following George Floyd's death in US police custody around the globe, 75 LGBT+ groups have united in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, noting shared experiences of harassment and police brutality. Their message? Neither people nor brands can celebrate Pride's 50-year history, without acknowledging that the riot was originally led by people of colour who sought to end police brutality and oppression.

Advertisers that fail to acknowledge this will not pass by unnoticed.

Yet, without the potential to flaunt on an audacious float, analysts have pondered whether sponsors will even be lining up with the same enthusiasm for Pride 2020. And, with 89% of large multinational companies deferring marketing campaigns last month, will brands have any dollars spare this year to throw at Pride?

For, Chris Kenna, co-founder of Brand Advance and director of diversity and inclusion at Outvertising, the advertising industry lobbying group, it's a hard one to predict.

"As companies restart their engines and the economy jumps back into gear, there is going to be a realignment of all ad spend - that's inevitable," Kenna contends.

Dhunna also reckons brands will find it hard to justify Pride spending, at a time when budgets are being squeezed.

"The root of this comes from the tightrope that Pride stands between being a protest and a celebration - the latter being more palatable for brand managers," he argues.

Dhunna points to #PridePledge - a call from LGBT+ advocate Ashlee Marie Preston to companies, asking them to reallocate Pride marketing money to LGBT+ people affected by Covid-19. Sadly, it is yet to reach its target of 15,000 signatories.

And, while the Paddy Power's float at Brighton Pride has in recent years become an iconic staple of the parade, the betting giant has no concrete plans in place due to the lack of outdoor activities. Though, it promises that when society is up and running safely again, it will begin talks again with its partners Mediacom and The Gay Times.

Despite Diageo brands Absolute and Smirnoff normally playing a key part in Pride, it's Pride plans, this year are more low-key and focussing internally on employee celebrations.

"However, all hope is not lost on brands still want to engage the LGBT+ community," Kenna continues. "Covid-19 has seen brands look for purpose more than ever - ensuring their comms has actual value beyond 'buy my product."

Back in March, Pink News’ founder and chief exec Benjamin Cohen aired the challenges of getting brands on board. “We think that it’s a great opportunity for brands to be involved but I'm under no illusions that it may be a difficult one to pull off,” Cohen said at the time.

However, while Cohen was buoyant about bringing Pride online, with or without sponsors, two months down the line and Pink News can boast H&M, Zipcar, GVC and Lelo as this year’s sponsors. PinkNews previous brand partners and Pride sponsors include Amazon, Lloyds, Barclays, Deliveroo, Uber, Citi, Aegon, and LinkedIn.

Them editor Sewell claims the mag has not struggled securing brand interest. "Brands have been coming to us, which in this age, is a good thing," she asserts. "It's good to see brands care about the messages they are sending to the world right now, at such a crucial time."

As part of Them's 2020 Pride efforts, skincare brand Bliss will be participating in the #OurPrideNow campaign that Them. is launching during Pride month.

Last year, Them had six sponsors for its Pride activations, including HBO and Aeropostale. Two years ago, nearly half of Them's business took place in June, and last year. In June last year, Them took in a third of its overall business.

P&G's record for supporting the LGBT+ community is near-immaculate in its consistency - and Pride in the time of coronavirus is no exception.

"We see this as a moment that we need to lean in," insists P&G's Miller. "This is a moment that we need to reaffirm our support and move forward, because the support of the community is so well ingrained in the company. We see it as a continuation of where we've been, and hopefully, the accelerator where we want to go."

Last week (28 May) P&G released the findings of its first-ever LGBT+ Inclusion in Advertising and Media' study, collaboration with its strategic partner Glaad, the LGBT+ charity. The findings were accompanied by the last film in its series with CNN's Great Big Story, which saw Miller conversing with LGBT+ consumers and members of the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, touching on issues that the report raised.

"We're working to use our voice, through media and our brands, to raise visibility," Miller explains. "Our voice won't be in a parade this year, but it's important to still bring it forward" confirming that P&G is "working to make sure that we maintain our level of investment in all the Prides around the world that we participate in. It's important that, while a celebration isn't happening, they still receive the support that they have from us."

HSBC is another professed LGBT+ ally sponsoring Pride events across the globe. Over the years, it has done valuable work in promoting queer rights and In 2016, the bank made history when it placed rainbow versions of its famous lions outside its Hong Kong headquarters to celebrate Pride. A decisive step for the organisation given Hong Kong's aversity to gay rights.

In 2017, the bank was praised for making it's lesbian, gay, bi and trans employees and customers feel valued by highlighting real employees sharing their lived experiences. When its trans lead of HSBC’s UK Pride Network, Stuart Barette, told the bank that he found going to the bank "terrifying" because every time he did, he had to declare he was trans, HSBC listened - introducing non-gender specific titles for its retail bank account.

"While we can’t celebrate in person, we’re bringing people together from across the globe through a #24HoursOfPride campaign," shares Leanne Cutts, HSBC's group chief marketing officer.

She explains that this will include a series of local and global virtual events and a social media conversation running over 24 hours, going around the world from New Zealand through to Canada, to help bring together the LGBT+ community and its allies. Alongside discussing important topic areas on LGBT+ careers and evolving the ad industry, the virtual event will see drag queens, quizzes, talk shows and DJs from around the world.

"On the ground, as the lead partner of Birmingham Pride, we supported this year’s virtual event and lit up our UK head office in the city with the Pride flag," Cutts continues. "While in Canada, 133 of our branches will be overhauling their window displays to show solidarity throughout June, July, and August."

While 2020 will go down as the year that Pride parades did not take place, its fair to say that it hasn't hindered a number of LGBT+ media brands, parade organizers, and LGBT+ brand allies from making it their mission to step out and make the community Proud.

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