During the month of June, many brands want to jump on board to try and court the Pride dollar by adding rainbows to their products. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and others in the sexual identity, gender, and gender expression diaspora (or more easily summed up as LGBTQ+) people are more likely to be interested in a brand’s comprehension and affirming actions rather than in their logos.
As a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community and a brand strategist for NGLCC member company A Great Idea, I thought I would share a few ways to engage queer consumers authentically in 2020:
1. Use flags and language that represent inclusion
While the six color rainbow is often the symbol most used to indicate LGBTQ communities, you may not be aware the first Pride flag by Gilbert Baker was 8 colors – pink for sexuality, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for harmony and purple for spirit. Due to budget reasons making pink difficult to mass manufacture, and a desire for an even number of stripes, the flag became the 6 colors we know today.
However, it’s not the only Pride flag around – now, there are many other flags that are under the umbrella! For example, a rainbow flag that includes a brown and black stripe has become popularized in recent years after launching at Philadelphia Pride. The move was made after 11 local gay bars and night clubs had to take anti-racism training due to complaints about how they treated nonwhite customers. Another flag to consider using not only includes black and brown stripes, but the trans pride colors as well. Designed by Daniel Quasar in 2018, this flag sought to re-center Pride around Black and brown trans people, widely credited for kicking off the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and birthing the Pride March in 1970. There is a wide spectrum of flags for intersex people, nonbinary people, genderqueer people, lesbians, asexuals, and many more subcategories of LGBTQ, often people who get unintentionally left behind in Pride campaigns, which often feature able bodied, white, gay, cisgendered men.
Also, using a variety of pronouns or gender-neutral pronouns (not just he/him and she/her, but they/them, zie/hir, and others) to communicate with your audience shows that you see them in all their diversity. Learn more about several common pronouns in circulation from this guide. Want to be an even bigger ally when interacting with the LGBTQ+ community? Include your pronouns when introducing yourself to help set the standard, and when in doubt, politely ask an individual’s pronouns rather than make the assumption.
2. Honor the trans women of color that got Pride this far by recognizing the contributions of Black queer people
Black Lives Matter was started by LGBTQ+ Black people. Marsha P. Johnson,Stormé DeLarverie, and Sylvia Rivera are widely credited as the people who started the Stonewall Riots. Yet for years, graphic design ignored Black and brown people, especially those with transgender experience, when creating posters, sites, and other marketing during Pride.
Chicago based beer company Goose Island responded to this issue with a beer named Shea Coul-Alé (after Black local drag queen Shea Coulee). It’s not just about the branding though, but the giving back. Their site says, “A portion of all proceeds will be donated back to Trans Tech, a charity created by former Chicago resident, actress, and activist Angelica Ross. The charity is dedicated to creating comprehensive vocational training, and job placement to trans women looking to get a head start in the workforce.”
3. Know what’s going on for the queer community right now
The whole world is coming to the streets to support Black Lives Matter and protest police brutality, an issue that is not only close to the hearts of Black and brown people, but also to queer people. LGBTQ people have often been abused by the police, and it was a police raid that started the Stonewall Riots. Being Black and LGBTQ+ has been (and still is) a focus for significant prejudice and violence, such as the recent murder of Tony McDade, a man with transgender experience.
Also, members of the queer Latinx, Middle Eastern, and Asian-Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ communities are often confronting anti-immigrant policies and prejudice that complicates their experience being out. This makes recognition and lifting those voices critical to queer communities and allies.
Recognizing the context of racial discourse in America adds significant layer to connect to LGBTQ+ audiences and celebrate the rainbow. Ironically, Skittles well-known for their “rainbow of fruit flavors” approached Pride with a big concept that failed to find a pot of gold. Their campaign of all-white Skittles (with the tagline that there was only rainbow that mattered”) slowly rolled out at a time when American conversations about white supremacy were matured in alignment with the George Floyd tragedy and the national protests, souring the candy’s campaign.
When considering Pride-based campaigns, start by building inclusive engagement with LGBTQ+ community members and ensuring that developing the market is a recognition of the community’s evolving needs and priorities by ensuring wide representation.
Want to Do Something Different? Support Community Voices and Coalitions
Pride month may be June, but the issues and discrimination still faced by LGBTQ+ people occurs all year. Beginning in 2019, A Great Idea supported the development of a forum series called Power Beyond Pride led by a coalition of diverse volunteers that aimed to amplify queer conversations necessary to central North Carolinians, including immigration, incarceration, racial justice, and housing. How can your company and brand get beyond the banners?
4. Remember the LGBTQ community is not a monolith
One mistake many brands make is trying to appeal to some stereotype of the LGBTQ+ community rather than doing market research to see what people are wanting now. Different subsections of the wider community have different wants and needs. Consider who you want to be reaching with your campaign and target more specifically for a better impact.
5. Pride is about celebrating the work that has been done, but also about the work left to do – don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk
Pride month may only the month of June, but building loyalty and trust should be a goal year round. Coronavirus had a big impact on brands willingness to fund various Pride events, with major corporations renegotiating their arrangements due to Pride becoming a virtual celebration. Supporting the LGBTQ+ and People of Color communities is often seen as supporting “corporate diversity”, which means many brands seem to consider it only necessary when the appropriate month arrives rather than investing in long-term engagements that amplify and expand opportunities. Looking to be a year-round ally like Google, IBM, and others? Voluntarily add statements of affirmation and protection to LGBTQ+ people in your policies and handbooks, make inclusive training and education part of the corporate commitment, and support internal organized groups of queer employees and allies.
Celebrating Pride this year (and every year!) is about recognizing and honoring the roles that Black and transgender leaders have in advancing LGBTQ+ liberation and our collective need to be end racism, transphobia, and homophobia. It’s also about connecting as communities to celebrate the richness of identities of our friends, family, and neighbors. That is something to really make us proud!
By Shane Lukas, Creative Strategist for A Great Idea