Brands are far too quick to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to Pride Month. Sometimes they get it right. Often they get it terribly wrong.
As creative professionals and navigators of this industry, we have the responsibility to be the ones driving both consumers and our own clients towards a more inclusive future for us all. There were some excellent brand initiatives last month, showing that a bit of effort and consideration can truly go a long way.
So what can we do to foster a more inclusive future? How does that tie into Pride Month? What about when Pride Month ends? To discuss the topic in more depth, we heard from Jack Hazeldine, Senior Account Executive at TDC PR, who shared his opinion below.
As creative thinkers, it is our duty to be the guardians of a more inclusive future
The creative sector appears to be one of the world’s most inclusive industries in the world for the LGBTQ+ community. Associated with the liberal and left-leaning, we have a reputation for being a safe and welcoming environment for marginalised people, a sort of Emerald City for queer professionals.
Yet, it is exactly this reputation that prevents us from truly progressing the diversity conversation. Too often have we turned a blind eye to instances of LGBTQ+ discrmination or exclusion within our own industry, as other sectors are “worse”. As the supposed forerunners of the diversity and inclusion race, we run the risk of only looking back at the other industries lagging behind us. Instead, we should be looking forward to what more can be achieved to create a truly supporting space for the LGBTQ+ community. That’s the thing about inclusivity - it is never a fixed end point, but a continuous journey that every sector is part of.
Within the creative workforce, LGBTQ+ inclusion is not as compelling as it seems. Not a single company from the creative sector was present in the 2018 Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, a benchmarking tool for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace. Like many other sectors, the creative industries may also suffer from believing itself to be more progressive than it really is. Research reveals that 60% of graduates go back into the closet when they enter the workforce, a figure even higher for queer people of colour. It isn’t a stretch to wonder if our heterosexual, cisgender, male-dominated sector could do more to welcome LGBTQ+ people.
Guardians of change
As creative thinkers, we are uniquely positioned to reconsider the systems we have built and find imaginative ways to reshape and improve them. Our skill lies in finding creative solutions to some of the world’s leading problems, from creating biodegradable materials which play a part in tackling the climate crisis, to reforming public spaces to be more inclusive of wheelchair users. We hold a responsibility to apply this same thinking to a world which has typically disenfranchised queer people, carve out a more inclusive vision of the future, and set the ever-changing barometer for other industries to follow.
Many creatives are already doing this. While Pride month is often used (rightfully) as a time to condemn the corporations that simply slap a rainbow over their logo or send hollow virtue signals, it is also a time where businesses can innovate to create queer inclusion year-round.
This has never been more true following a year of immense global struggle. The pandemic has heightened our capacity for compassion and empathy, while the Black Lives Matter movement and accelerating social justice conversations have triggered a growing realisation that we don’t experience the world equally. The result has been a far more authentic and community-centric approach to Pride this year, in which brands, organisations and creative collectives demonstrate the power of creative thinking as an agent of change.
Visibility is power
For too long LGBTQ+ representation has been marred by derogatory stereotypes or erasure altogether. Recognising that authentic representation comes directly from the voices of marginalised people, many brands decided to let the queer community speak for themsleves in their Pride campaigns this year.
Following Skittles’ somewhat surface-level efforts last June, in which they removed their rainbow packaging to highlight the only rainbow that “matters”, the confectionary brand stepped up this year by commissioning murals by queer artists across the USA. Each artwork features ‘QueeR Codes’ which links to a site showcasing stories and content from the LGBTQ+ community. From Blair Imani’s powerful writing to Tenderoni’s beautiful drag, the site seeks to raise the visibility of queer artists from diverse backgrounds and encourage public engagement.
Reebok, on the other hand, collaborated with iconic ballroom group, the House of Ninja through a mini-documentary that shines a light on prominent members of the house, while educating viewers on the role that vogueing plays in LGBTQ+ history. By giving the House of Ninja a platform to share their stories, Reebok have created a beacon of queer self-expression, while donating $75,000 to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in the process.
A chance to educate
Brands hold the influence to make people listen and educate them on the experiences of LGBTQ+ people. Aesop’s Queer Library is one particularly creative approach to education, swapping their usual products in stores across the globe for books written by LGBTQ+ authors. Focusing on queer writers of colour and trans authors, the brand provided an entirely free compendium of LGBTQ+ voices for consumers to thoughtfully engage with.
Miller Lite took a different approach, teaming up with Equality Federation to provide non-discrimination training for more than 55,000 bars that sell their beer. The initiative seeks to educate bar staff on LGBTQ+ issues through town halls and training materials, ensuring that all queer Miller Lite drinkers are treated equally.
Impact on scale
With size comes the power to make a tangible difference to LGBTQ+ lives. This is best embodied by Unilever’s pledge to improve the municipal equality index of five cities in the US rated among the worst in terms of LGBTQ+ inclusion. Harnessing their expansive resources and influence, the conglomorate is supporting grassroot organisations fighting for issues ranging from battling conversion therapy to destigmatising HIV. The initiative is supported by a film made my transgender artist and activist Tourmaline, which seeks to increase diversity in Unilever’s advertisements and content.
The road ahead
Despite Pride month being over, the struggle continues for LGBTQ+ people and the industry still has many barriers to overcome. Going forward, more brands should take inspiration from Unilever and use Pride as a starting point to support the queer community all year round, rather than only in June. The world needs less rainbow packaging and more platforming of queer organisations, LGBTQ+-specific boards to advise on policies, and inclusive representation every day of the year.
As for our workplaces, emerging queer creatives need to see versions of themselves in their work environments in order to thrive. Young people are identifying as LGBTQ+ more than ever, meaning that the future of our industry lies in an increasingly queer demographic. Ultimately, we must nurture their creative potential by creating safe and welcoming work environments that represent the diverse world around us.