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Why Unilever localized Pride push to 5 US cities ranked worst for LGBT+ people

Determined to enact real change this Pride, Unilever has pledged to improve the municipal equality index of five cities in the US rated among the worst in terms of conditions for LGBT+ people. As it releases the first two films in the five-part series, The Drum talks to the lead of Unilever USA’s Pride Business Relationship group about the project.

Rainbow-washing is the term used to describe brands that smack a rainbow logo across their socials without bothering to use their power and influence to make an actual difference. Hoping to prove its brand is not just a trick of the light, this Pride Unilever has set itself a mission to actively improve conditions in five cities ranked worst for LGBT+ people.

Aiming to make frontline change, instead of offering a ‘one size fits all’ Pride campaign, the third year of its United We Stand campaign will support on-the-ground grassroots organizations, looking beyond major cities that typically offer more support and services for its residents.

To do so, it referred to the municipal equality index (MEI) which examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies, and services are of LGBT+ people who live and work there, rating them on everything from non-discrimination laws to bullying.

To put things in context, the cities picked by Unilever are five of 17 that scored 0 on the index, while places like Los Angeles and New York scored the maximum 100. “If you look at the index, you’ll find there’s parts of the States that score zero in terms of how they relate back to LGBT+ support,” explains Conor Feeney, lead of Pride Business Relationship group at Unilever USA. “It’s where we can really influence change,” he says, stressing that diversity was critical.

Through United We Stand, local organizations in the five cities – Monroe in Louisiana, Moore in Oklahoma, Clemson in South Carolina, Florence in Alabama and Southern Missouri – will be supported by Unilever year-round, beyond the month of Pride.

Through the partnerships, Unilever aims to address key issues that help raise living standards for LGBT+ people in these areas, focused on lowering hate crime rates, creating safe spaces, increasing access to local services, fighting conversion therapy, HIV decriminalization, youth homelessness and nutritional support for the LGBT+ community.

“We’re really tailoring our support to focus on issues that these organizations can really help on within the communities,” Feeney explains. “Rather than just be city-focused. By doing this we can affect real change through this year and into the future.”

As part of the Pride campaign, Unilever has enlisted the help of the mononymic activist-filmmaker Tourmaline. A transgender woman who identifies as queer, Tourmaline has worked with Unilever since 2019 and has created a series of five films that explore the stories of change-making individuals from multiple intersectional LGBT+ experiences including rural, indigenous, Black, latinx, transgender and youth. This is part of efforts to increase diversity in advertisements and content, both on-screen and behind the camera.

Unilever released the five films on June 9. One film visits Florence in Alabama, talking to Quentin Bell, director of The Knight & Orchids Society, and Gabriel Cabán Cubero, southeast regional organizer at Working Families Party. They both speak about how they’re working to make their area more accepting of LGBT+ communities.

In another, Unilever goes to Clemson in South Carolina, meeting Darius Jones and Gertie Frazier-Williams, who are president and vice-president of South Carolina Black Pride respectively. Both talk of their experiences growing up gay in South Carolina, how they learned to be themselves and why they need to lead by example.

“The videos explore the stories of change-making individuals from multiple intersectional LGBT+ experiences, which is part of the company’s ongoing efforts to increase diversity in advertisements and content, both on-screen and behind the camera,” explains Feeney. “The advocacy will be representative of the work that the organizations are doing.”

The third year of United We Stand, Feeney says this campaign is a progression on Unilever’s policies over the last three years. “We’ve continuously supported LGBT+ initiatives over the last three years and this is a further development of that approach through the year,” he explains.

“We are committed to achieving solid results through improving the score. So the tangible systemic result that we want to see is improving the scores in these areas specifically relating back to the issues where we feel we can affect real change through monetary support of the organizations. We’re partnering with Tourmaline to launch the advocacy campaign that relates back to issues specifically that these organizations are focused on.”

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