June brings about the annual controversy of corporate involvement in Pride. Pride is a month dedicated to the acceptance and celebration of the LGBTQ community, and it is rooted in a history of perseverance against ignorance and hatred. On June 28, 1969, Marsha P. Johnson led a group of protestors against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. She was a black, transgender, bisexual woman who began the gay liberation movement of the 1970s, which ultimately led to today’s broad acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Marsha began the Stonewall Riots not because she wanted to tote a rainbow-colored flag, but because she wanted to be treated equally without discrimination. That brings us to the Pride celebrations that take place across the world every June.
Since 2011, support for the LGBTQ community has been rapidly increasing. As the majority of the country began to accept same-sex marriage, it became less and less risky for corporations to publicly back the movement. Compared to small businesses turning away customers because of their sexual identity, this was a big step forward. Large companies like Wells Fargo and MAC Cosmetics started sponsoring Pride parades all over the nation. Some retail stores, such as H&M, offer pride collections. On the surface, the rainbow-colored support of these large entities is beneficial to the awareness and acceptance of queer individuals. But when does it stop being good-natured and turn selfish instead?
While rainbow-colored logos, storefronts, and apparel are fun and immediately recognizable as Pride-themed, many of the companies flaunting them are doing little to actually support the community. For instance, Adidas offers a “Pride Pack” collection to honor the LGBTQ community, but is also a primary sponsor of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, a country known for its homophobic laws and practices. Gilead Sciences, the maker of PrEP (a drug to help prevent HIV infection) is a top sponsor of Pride, but is unaffordable for the most vulnerable members of the gay community. When it comes to publicly supporting a cause, its essential that brands are consistent in their messaging and their actions, and that it’s not just for PR.
Alternatively, some companies have done a great job not just showing but also maintaining their support for the LGBTQ community. This year, AT&T donated one million dollars to the Trevor Project–a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention in LGBTQ youth–which was the largest single contribution in the organization’s history. The telecommunications company also enforces anti-discriminatory internal policies to ensure their activism is not just skin-deep. If your brand chooses to back a social cause, it must be genuine. Consumers will see right through your company if you’re pumping out Pride content solely for profitability.
Thinking about aligning your brand with something bigger? Then make sure your employees—especially those in high-ranking positions—are representative of that belief and that your company is taking action to benefit the community it claims to support. This could mean holding team volunteer sessions or doing the research to ensure your money is going to the right place. The last thing vulnerable communities need is a fake friend.