Celebrating Pride Month in an ethical and inclusive way
Every June, a massive wave of rainbows over takes social media and products all over e-commerce websites and physical stores…
But pride isn’t about commercializing the LGBTQ+ community, it’s about acknowledging the hardships it faces, the multiplicity of stories it holds and celebrating the beauty in having a world filled with a multitude of gender identities and sexualities.
Disclaimer: this article is by no means perfect or final. It will evolve and be added to as I learn how to be a better ally to the LGBTQ+ community and find new ways to help celebrate and protect the LGBTQ+ community through my work as a social media manager for conscious brands.
what is pride really about?
A celebration born from resistance and riots
While the rainbow flag & parades may be what first comes to mind for most people when they hear “Pride month”, Pride actually started in the 1970s, following the historic 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York. As mentioned in Them.us’ article on the history of Pride, “Following the Stonewall Riots, organizers wanted to build on that spirit of resistance. The following year, they organized a march to Central Park, and adopted the theme of “Gay Pride” as a counterpoint to the prevailing attitude of shame.“ From there, the movement eventually grew to international proportions, with Pride being celebrated by LGBTQ+ communities around the world, and not just via a one day parade but a whole month in June.
The powerful symbolism of the rainbow flag(s)
While there have been other symbols associated to, and used by, the LGBTQ+ community over the years, the rainbow flag has become the most recognizable and iconic over the years. The rainbow flag also emerged in the 1970s, designed by Gilbert Baker and Lynn Segerblom at the request of Harvey Milk, the famous (and famously gay) San Francisco city supervisor (via Them.us). While initially associated to gay men, the Pride Flag is now seen as inclusive of the many different groups and identities within the LGBTQ+ community, whether they are lesbian, queer, bisexual, pansexual, intersex, polyamorous, asexual, etc. Most of these different groups also have their own multi-colored flags.
Since 2018, the “Progress Pride Flag” designed by Daniel Quasar has become increasingly widely used. It builds off of the traditional rainbow flag with additional pink, baby blue and white stripes for Trans people and black and brown stripes to represent Black individuals & People of Color. These groups within the LGBTQ+ community have been instrumental in driving the movement forward over the past decades, yet often face the most discrimination, and exclusion.
The freedom to be true to one’s self, to love who you love… openly!
While the case can surely be made that more, and more varied, LGBTQ+ individuals have reached mainstream visibility and wide-reaching platforms, there is still much work to be done. If you take some time scrolling through social media, you’ll likely stumble upon homophobic & transphobic comments, heartbreaking stories of individuals coming out and being rejected by loved ones, being discriminated against in the workplace or in general… and let’s not forget all the people who live in communities or countries where they can’t safely live their sexuality and gender identity out loud.
That, and so much more, is why I love this artwork by Jess Bird, aka @blessthemessy on Instagram, and reshared it in a post along with some of my thoughts:
What is rainbow washing?
According to Urban Dictionary, Rainbow Washing refers to “the act of using or adding rainbow colors and/or imagery to advertising, apparel, accessories, landmarks, et cetera, in order to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ equality (and earn consumer credibility)–but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result. (Akin to “green-washing” with environmental issues and “pink-washing” with breast cancer.)”
Basically, slapping rainbows on your products, feed or any other communication or sales touchpoint to align yourself with the LGBTQ+ community in order to positive associations for your brand and, generally, boost sales.
I’ve read countless first-hand accounts from activists and content creators within the LGBTQ+ community about the massive influx of brands reaching out to them to work with them for Pride… without pay and/or without wanting to answer questions about their own internal processes to support LGBTQ+ individuals. And then there are the brands that simply add a rainbow-themed product, without donating at least a portion of proceeds to LGBTQ+ causes.
Thankfully, consumers are less and less easily duped by rainbow-washing, but its prevalence can place an additional emotional burden on LGBTQ+ individuals and create an excess of noise drowning out the LGBTQ+ voices, causes and brands that really should be the ones benefitting from this additional spotlight in June.
What can ethical & sustainable brands do to Support the LGBTQ+ community on and off social media, year-round?
(without being performative & rainbow washing!)
First, if you and your brand really want to be allies to the LGBTQ+ community – a post or two once a year isn’t going to cut it. Being LGBTQ+ isn’t limited to a handful of days. Being an ally shouldn’t be either.
Step 1: focus inward (within yourself and within your business)
While my expertise is social media (we’ll get to that later), before looking at how to communicate your support for the LGBTQ+ community, I encourage you to turn your focus internally first and ask yourself:
- Are your hiring processes LGBTQ+-friendly?
- Do you have any internal guidelines to support and create a safe space for LGBTQ+ employees?
- Do you disclose your preferred pronouns when- and wherever possible?
Having your motivations and values in check and working on your business’ DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) policies is crucial to having a solid base to communicate from. People want brands that share their values, truly, and put concret actions behind their words. Basically… brands that don’t just talk the talk but walk the walk!
Step 2: Adopt a more inclusive, allyship-driven social media approach:
Here are some key things to consider to make your content more inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community (and other historically marginalized groups too):
- Using gender- and sexuality-inclusive wording AND imagery (photos, videos, emojis…)
- Having a social media strategy that addresses how to address hateful, anti-LGBTQ+ comments (like block + delete or set responses) to help make LGBTQ+ individuals in your audience feel safe.
- Following, and amplifying the content of, diverse LGBTQ+ voices, of different gender identities, sexualities, ethnicity, religion, culture, socio-economic background, etc.
- Seeking out diverse LGBTQ+ content creators and influencers to partner with, not just during Pride but throughout the year, and paying them fairly as you would any other partner.
- Finally: create an open line of communication with your audience. It’s a learning process – take concrete steps to create a safer space in the community around your conscious brand, actively ask for feedback, and continue to adapt your strategy.
The idea is to create safe & inclusive online (and offline) spaces for all.
Incorporating all of this into your business and marketing strategy can take time, and some trial and error along the way, but believe me, it is worth it! To truly be a conscious business owner, identifying, questioning & eliminating your biases in favor of more inclusive & intersectional processes is key.
Social justice and environmental justice must be intersectional. We need to make sure everyone’s voices are heard, everyone’s basic human rights and needs are met. Whatever their sexuality, gender identity, race, nationality, religion, age, physical or mental health and abilities… Leave no one behind!
ADDITIONAL RESOURCEs to continue learning about – and from – the lgbtq+ community
(These lists will continue to grow so feel free to check back here regularly)
Instagram accounts to follow
@lgbt_history to learn more about key LGBTQ+ figures through the ages, all too often left out of our history books and academic programs
@raindovemodel who creates beautiful conversations around gender identity & sexuality
@plantkween for the most luscious plant-related content
@blairimani whose Smarter In Seconds series of reels is always super insightful on how to be more inclusive, more respectful towards all
@deafqueer, @jessicaoutofthecloset, @carson_tueller & @jenvcampbell for sharing their (and other people’s) experiences on being LGBTQ+ and having a disability along with generally lovely, inspiring content!
To add to your reading and watch list
For my fellow bookworms:
- Three books I really loved that are either own-voices or feature great LGBTQ+ representation: “Fierce Femme and Notorious Liars” by Kai Cheng Thom, based on her experience as a trans woman, the New York Public Library’s “The Stonewall Reader” on the Stonewall riots, as well as “Pet” by Akwaeke Emezi, featuring a young trans, selectively mute girl. A recent gut-wrenching read was “Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Part” by Lauren Hough, on growing up as a lesbian in a cult, joining the military, homelessness and more.
- Kay O’Neill’s “Aquicorn Cove” and “Tea Dragon Society” children’s books featuring LGBTQ+ characters is stunningly beautiful AND heart-warming (great disability representation too and even some eco-themes in the Aquicorn Cove!).
- Jen Campbell (mentioned above for her LGBTQ+ & disability-related content) is a YouTuber, book reviewer and author. I’m particularly fond of her middle-grade book The Girl Who Ate Her Brothers (which includes some queer fairytale retellings) and her poetry collection The Girl Aquarium.
Binge-worthy TV shows:
- “Schitt’s Creek” – I wish we lived in a Schitt’s Creek world, David & Patrick’s relationship storyline is handled so beautifully.
- “Heartstopper” – There has been loads of buzz around this show and for good reason. Based on a series of graphic novels, it’s a wonderful peek into what it can be like being a gay, trans, or bi teen in the UK.
Binge-worthy movies: “Moonlight”, “Milk”, “Love, Simon” and “Call Me By My Name” are a great place to start.
Binge-worthy documentaries: “Disclosure” & “All in My Family”.