Our thoughts on the purpose-led economy
Account Director, Matter Unlimited
How Brands Can Be Better LGBTQ+ Allies
It’s the month of inescapable rainbows. One seemingly cannot pass a storefront or scroll through a feed without seeing the Pride flag or a brand logo in the ubiquitous ROYGBIV. Sneakers, Uber maps, sodas, banks, toothpastes and more have all jumped on the rainbow bandwagon and the internet has noticed:
As we enter World Pride 2019 and honor the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots there’s plenty to celebrate as the level of LGBTQ+ representation is at an all-time high. Governments across the globe are passing queer rights legislation at a rate never seen before.
On the other hand, there are still 67 countries that consider same-sex relationships illegal and hate crimes targeting the queer community are a frequent staple of the news cycle. Ask any LGBTQ+ person about Pride and they’ll likely share their joy over battles that have been won as well as the urgency for further progress.
People have a right to feel conflicted about (and suspicious of) brands that have taken a late stance on a long-standing issue. Rainbow-colored ice cream and shopping bags are great, but are they an authentic form of advocacy? Where were all of these brands just a few years ago? How exactly does a brand become a true ally of the LGBTQ+ community?
Below are guiding principles that lead to authentic action for Pride month and examples of brands that understand how true allyship and impact is based on backing up words with meaningful action.
1) Listen to LGBTQ+ Voices
Diverse representation across all facets of your business and communications has proven to make brands more credible and successful. Engaging with your queer employee base as well as external advocates will help inform and strengthen your marketing efforts. They have been pandered to by brands before and understand the complexities of the issues their own communities face.
When MasterCard announced recently that members of the transgender community can use their chosen name on debit and credit cards, GLAAD acknowledged their efforts of inclusivity in a statement: “Mastercard listened to transgender and non-binary consumers’ needs for privacy and authenticity and created a powerful tool to make their lives better.”
2) Elevate Queer Stories Above Your Brand Story
Instead of grandstanding, elevate stories of queer advocates who are fighting for equality. Even more importantly, don’t try to force-fit their stories into your brand narrative or product communications. While Gillette’s risky #MeToo spot gained mixed reactions, they more recently hit the mark perfectly with a warm, honest story of a transgender teenager and his father.
The former put forward a Brand POV lacking clear action and representation, while the latter showed true depth by celebrating real people and how their product plays a small, yet profound, part of their story.
3) Financial Contributions Validates Your Brand Purpose
“We’ve seen an overwhelming number of brands across industries entering the arena and recognizing queer spending power (nearly $1 trillion),” says Jesse Steinbach, Special Projects Editor at LOGO and former Digital Managing Editor at OUT Magazine. “ Over the past 10 or so years, there's been an expectation that brands can't just sponsor a float or sell rainbow gear; they have to make some financial contribution to a queer cause, as well.”
He also points out that while all charities are doing great work, it’s important to consider the smaller non-profits that concentrate on marginalized people within the community. “Places like Trans Lifeline, National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Transgender Law Center are giving aid to those who are most targeted by employment and housing discrimination, homelessness, inadequate health care, and hateful policies from the Trump administration,” says Steinbach.
Levi’s, a long supporter of Pride Month, donates 100% of net proceeds from their Pride collection to OutRight Action International, which is working to advance human rights for LGBTQ+ people all over the world.
None of this to say that even the smallest efforts are to be considered empty. Representation, even if it’s simply changing your logo or sharing a tweet with your support, can be impactful in any form. However, it’s the brands that empathize with (and genuinely support) the cause that will gain the hard-won trust and loyalty of today’s socially conscious consumer.