Recommendations for Brand Marketers during Pride Month and Beyond

Barry Fitzpatrick & Michelle Chan
Published June 21, 2022
  • Diversity Equity & Inclusion
  • Social Marketing

Pride Month can be a joyful time to celebrate and reflect upon the contributions and achievements of the LGBTQIA+ community, but it can also be a potential minefield for businesses. Whether you’re part of the community yourself or consider yourself and your business an ally (or you want to become one), there’s always something new to learn. 

What is Pride Month?

Pride Month traces its roots to the Clinton administration. On June 2, 2000, President Bill Clinton issued a Presidential Proclamation designating the month of June as “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.” In his statement, Clinton stressed that “gay and lesbian Americans have made important and lasting contributions to our Nation in every field of endeavor,” yet “too often, however, gays and lesbians face prejudice and discrimination; too many have had to hide or deny their sexual orientation in order to keep their jobs or to live safely in their communities.”

National Pride Month aims to highlight and celebrate the important contributions LGBTQIA+ Americans have made to United States history and culture. Specifically, the month of June was chosen in remembrance of the Stonewall Inn Riots. 

In the wee hours of the morning on June 28, 1969, police occupied the Stonewall Inn in New York City and began making arrests. Patrons in the bar started pushing back against the discriminatory actions of the NYPD, and by 4 a.m. protestors had grown so large that a new era of resistance and revolution was born. 

It is important to acknowledge that the Stonewall Riots were led by trans women of color and Black lesbians, notably Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Stormé DeLarverie and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. Leading up to the pivotal evening of June 28, Marsha P. Johnson led a series of protests that lit the spark for the contemporary gay rights movement. This is often forgotten as part of the narrative around Pride month due to marginalization of transphobia and anti-Blackness, and to this day, Black trans people like Marsha P. Johnson are not benefitting equally from the movement they started.

StonewaIl is a complex and crucial historical event born of years of discrimination and the criminalization of the gay community. If you’ve not heard of the Stonewall Riots/Uprising, you’ll find many resources, from Wikipedia to podcasts to books and documentaries that will help empower you with knowledge so you can be a better ally. 

The Current Climate

If you’ve spent any amount of time on social media during the month of June, you’ve likely seen some big-name brands announcing their support for the LGBTQIA+ community in honor of Pride Month. Most notably, companies have rebranded their corporate social media profiles to feature rainbow-colored logos, cover photos, products, and entire rainbow-themed campaigns in tribute to the Pride flag.

Although this outpouring of support is great in theory, it raises some major questions. How many of these companies work to implement real change for the LGBTQIA+ community? How many of these companies actively show their support and advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights?

More than ever, consumers are turning a critical eye to the companies that they buy from, like putting pressure on businesses for donating to politicians who have pushed anti-transgender legislation.

  • study from Unilever found that 66% of LGBTQIA+ individuals between the ages of 18 and 34 believe people from diverse backgrounds are featured in ads “just to make up the numbers.” 
  • Putting out pink rainbow sparkles does not equal advocacy. Increasingly, companies are facing backlash for ‘rainbow washing’, ‘Pride washing’ or targeting ‘pink money’, i.e. the combined buying power of $3.7 trillion dollars held by LGBTQIA+ adults.

As brands work with partners and internal teams to implement campaigns for Pride Month, the below principles around celebrating Pride will help ensure they’re taking the right approach.

The McCOE Recommendation

  • When including Pride messaging in marketing, make it about the celebration, not about the product. Do not highlight brand products and services unless directly related to the cause. Don’t exploit social initiatives, conversations and the vernacular of the Pride community as a means to reach business goals. Learn more about good - and bad - examples of Pride Month marketing here.
  • Don’t hijack the conversation; lend your platform. Don’t let Pride be all about the brand; it’s not. Find Pride groups and organizations in the community and use the brand’s platform to share their content.
  • Don't know where to start? Begin close to home. Support a topic that aligns with the brand's purpose that they have supported in the past. For example, if they’ve supported the Black Lives Matter movement, consider lending voices to black transgender people.
     
  • Pride Month isn’t just about the month itself. All the issues for Pride community members don’t just end on June 30th. Find local organizations that help fight for rights and awareness of social and legal issues throughout the year - here is a good place to start.
  • Put your money (and time) where your mouth is. While monetary donations can be helpful, volunteering at community events or spending time with Pride advocacy organizations may be a more valuable experience.

If there’s one single takeaway, it’s this: Genuinely and sincerely commit to celebrating the community by arming internal teams and partners with knowledge so that they know the issues and how to help all year round.

Additional Considerations: 

  • If you do make a mistake? Own up to it. People are much more likely to forgive a sincere apology than branding double-speak.
  • Seek support/input from internal stakeholders within the Pride community. Pride Month and Pride Day are not mandatory. If an employee expresses discomfort with group celebrations, then react with kindness and understanding. Don’t force employees to participate just because they’re LGBTQIA+; they’re people, not tokens.
  • Don’t assume that the LGBTQIA+ community doesn’t continue to face adversity simply because Pride Month exists.
  • The tone and intent are critical. All communications should celebrate, honor, and promote positivity of the culture. An authentic, meaningful human story should be the guiding light, not the trends, the month or moment itself.
  • It’s not all rainbows. While Pride seems synonymous with ROYGBIV, there are other flags and other colors that represent the LGBTQIA+ community, too. For example, the Progress Pride Flag includes black and brown stripes to represent marginalized LGBTQIA+ communities of color, along with the colors pink, light blue and white, which are used on the Transgender Pride Flag.

 

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