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Marketing Brand Purpose Brand Strategy

If your brand really backs Pride, drop the ‘meaningless slogans and empty promises’

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By Son Pham | Senior campaign executive

June 7, 2023 | 7 min read

Son Pham, senior campaign executive at Manifest, says there needs to be substance and purpose behind brands’ support of the LGBTQ+ community.

Pride

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When queer and trans people’s lives are in literal danger, brands and corporations need to rethink how to engage, empower and enable the LGBTQ+ community, without meaningless slogans and empty promises.

All sun blazing. Natasha Bedingfield’s Pocketful of Sunshine on repeat. More mimosas with 1% orange juice and 99% prosecco at a favorite weekend brunch spot under the bridge. The heather-purple night sky. And the sweltering and sweaty ride on Central Line. There’s an undeniable charm about June and summer that’s impossible to ignore. Padam Padam. For 53 years, June – Pride month – has also been about marches, protests and celebrations that represent the ongoing pursuits of equal justice for the LGBTQ+ community.

But late-stage capitalism permeates every facet of life and we’re gagging: corporations and brands worldwide wouldn’t miss the chance to show their public displays of support and solidarity to cash in on LGBTQ+ Pride. After all, 3.16% of the UK population identify as LGBTQ+, with that figure rising to 6.91% among Gen Z (16 to 24 years old). In the US, roughly 21% of Generation Z who have reached adulthood identify as LGBTQ+. One-fifth. As many as the number of people Pete Davidson has dated, so think about that.

We have seen corporations either slap a rainbow on everything for five weeks while ignoring the queer community for the rest of the year or create cringy campaigns that leave us gasping for air. While visibility is of critical importance, it’s even more vital for these corporations – and for us – to bear the responsibility to take meaningful actions, uplift and protect the queer community and fight for equality.

’​​Love wins’, ’Equality for all’ and ’Let’s get proud’ are positive affirmations, particularly helpful for those who live in rural areas or might not have the means to see themselves represented, and I encourage brands and corporations to continue doing so. In the context of more hostility and fewer protections towards queer people, however, more visibility without associated actions is unproductive.

The broader context speaks for itself. In this year’s Rainbow Europe Map – the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) Europe’s annual benchmarking tool, which ranks 49 European countries on their respective legal and policy practices for LGBTQ+ people, from 0-100% – the UK has significantly dropped to 17th place (bear in mind it was the top nation in 2015 and 14th place in 2022). According to the Home Office, hate crime rates were described to have reached the “starkest” increase since the series began in 2011/12, with homophobic hate crimes increasing 41% and transphobic crimes by 56% in England and Wales.

In the US, drag performers are under attack and anti-drag bills are being passed into law. When prejudice and negative perceptions against queer and trans people are constantly perpetuated left, right and center, culture wars run rampant and people are quick to rush into some kind of nastiness Olympics around the LGBTQ+ community on social media, ’Love is love’ doesn’t seem to be helpful.

Each year, we wait with bated breath to see what brands and corporations are up to in June and every year we’re on shaky ground. It’s a game of who’s who and who shouts ’solidarity’ loudest from the rooftop but quietly and actively supports lawmakers that advance anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Fortune reports that those companies who wave the rainbow flag – Walmart, Disney, AT&T and Toyota, to name a few – donated almost $3m (from 2019 to 2022) to lawmakers whose agendas include bills that ban the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools or legislation restricting trans youths from playing on sports teams. When can we ever breathe a collective sigh of relief for once?

However, that shouldn’t take away genuine corporate LGBTQ+ allyship and advocacy. Recent backlash of and calls to boycott Pride-themed merchandise and inclusive campaigns demonstrate the ever-polarized state of the world: Bud Light under fire after the collaboration with trans TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney; Target removing LGBTQ+ products after conservative backlash, Kohl’s threatened with boycott over LGBTQ+-themed clothes. But companies like The North Face are proving there is such a thing as genuine corporate LGBTQ+ allyship. The company is standing up against right-wing criticism of its latest Pride campaign, which contrasts with that of some other companies. It needs urgent chiropractic intervention after carrying inclusivity and allyship on its back.

The current climate requires more urgent and specific calls to action and actions. Stand up against the anti-queer hate. Protect trans rights, which are human rights. Eliminate transphobia and homophobia. Amplify queer people’s voices. Listen to them. Work with queer creators. Create authentic campaigns. Help drive systemic change. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, it’s an ongoing fight. Fight the fight. Help us fight the fight. At its heart, Pride is a protest and a radical liberation of queer politics and movement.

Queer people’s rights and liberation did not begin or end with the Stonewall Uprising. Corporations and brands could milk the cash cow as much as they attempt to, but there needs to be substance and purpose behind them. And haven’t you heard? Gay men are obsessed with oat milk.

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