Year after year, brands announce their Pride-themed special edition products. From sneakers to bandanas to entire clothing ranges, rainbows, unicorns and encouraging hashtags become ubiquitous for a couple of weeks, and brands proudly announce how they’ve been supporting the good cause since Day One.
Adidas, Nike, Levi’s and Converse are among the many streetwear brands that annually release such special edition products and support the LGBT community by donating proceeds of the sales to charities.
It’s commendable that big brands show their support in this way, but let’s not forget that Pride is more than a march for equality: it has become a business. Embracing the LGBT community has become a very lucrative move for brands, both financially and in terms of gaining social capital.
Among the many brands that support Pride, there are only a few that genuinely care about all the members of the LGBT community by making real efforts to be inclusive within their own structures.
In London and NYC, the corporate embrace of the LGBT community is so tight that Pride parades now heavily rely on sponsorship, which has resulted in some unlikely partnerships: London Pride 2016 was sponsored by arms dealer BAE systems, and also featured stunts performed by the RAF – two companies that directly contribute to and profit from human suffering. Understandably, anti-militarist groups were outraged.
They argued that there should be “No Pride in war” and that the march has turned into a shameful event. Then there’s Wal-Mart, one of many top level sponsors of NYC Pride in 2016. The company regularly becomes the centre of attention itself because of its involvement in countless race-based discrimination lawsuits.
NYC Pride made a total of $1.7 million from sponsorship deals in 2016, and with rates from $12,500 to $175,000 per package, it comes as no big surprise that not all decisions Pride’s management makes are purely based on ethical grounds.
Millennials tend to skip commercials, block banners and generally try their best to ignore advertising, but the vast majority actually do care about brands that engage with them and give something back to society(60% and 75%, respectively).
With 65% of Millennials and only 48% of Gen Z’ers identifying as completely heterosexual, it makes a lot of sense for brands to declare their love for the LGBT community. Their special-edition products provide exactly what many young people can easily get on board with: supporting a relatable cause through consumerism.
However, the corporate embrace becomes problematic when companies that do nothing to promote equality within their own ranks affiliate themselves with Pride and the LGBT community.
These companies benefit from being perceived as progressive without actually having to change a thing about their often questionable policies, such as the treatment of their employees in non-Western countries – countries that have LGBT communities, too. Their shameful practices, past and present, are brushed under the carpet and the most vulnerable members of the community get thrown under the pinkwashed bus.
In the words of writer, journalist and trans activist Shon Faye, there’s a heavy price to pay for being capitalism’s sassy best friend. She describes pinkwashing as “a PR strategy that is designed to conceal distressing realities and uncomfortable truths [and] isolates sexuality from class, race, nationality, religion and gender in order to tell us that equality is possible for all” – a strategy that proves to be a winning one.
Conservative politicians have long made gay equality part of their agenda while their policies have had a detrimental effect on economically-vulnerable members of the LGBT community. Policemen dance happily with the crowd at Pride and create a beautiful illusion of unity for spectators, while conveniently distracting from the violence people of color, including queer and trans PoC, still face at the hands of police.
If brands really want to be taken seriously as supporters of the LGBT community, they’ll have to put their money where their mouth is and embrace the economically-vulnerable members of the community as much as the affluent ones.
Instead of turning a blind eye to the hardship marginalized members of the LGBT community still face, 48 years after the Stonewall riots, they could show their support all year round by improving the working conditions of their existing employees, including those in non-Western countries, and by employing more diverse staff – from the shop-floor all the way up to the boardroom.
That’s what meaningful support of Pride is really about.