June is national Pride Month! The celebration is known for the weeks of fun parades it brings across the country each year, and the public acceptance and exuberance gives the LGBTQ+ community a little extra encouragement to come out or fully express themselves.
And wherever there’s national goodwill — of course — you’ll also find corporate exploitation. Plenty of corporations have been hopping on the pride train, slapping rainbows on their products and using the month as an opportunity to boost their image and make some extra money.
For the past few years, stores have been using Pride Month to capitalize off of the LGBTQ+ community by selling pride-themed clothes for parades or including queer couples in ads for all of June. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a company showing their support for the community, but it’s easy for these kinds of profit-making techniques to quickly become problematic.
A lot of brands seem to only care about gay issues when they can profit from the community’s marginalization and oppression. Fortunately, there are ways these stores can prove to their customers they actually care about the community, instead of just trying to bring in more consumers.
1. Avoid heteronormative culture year-round.
June might be a special time for the LGBTQ+ community, but it’s not the only time they exist. By looking at a lot of major companies’ support of the festivities, though, you might get that impression.
Companies like Budweiser exploit Pride Month by sponsoring their products at gay festivals, but their allyhood doesn’t seem to be as strong any other month of the year. Normally, Budweiser is a brand that reinforces gender norms and heteronormativity, teaming up with Playboy during the Super Bowl and portraying straight, patriarchal advertisements.
Companies like this, that might as well not care about the gay community outside of the month of June, have a clear Pride Month mission: to make more money.
Queer people live their lives year-round, and they’re all human beings beyond their sexual and gender identities. They should be represented accordingly, but many companies conveniently forget about adequately representing the LGBTQ+ community outside of the month of June.
2. Put your money where your mouth is.
In 2014, Burger King introduced a “proud whopper” — a regular whopper in a rainbow wrapping — to supposedly “support the cause.”
However, as a company, Burger King has never shown their support otherwise. They’ve never donated to any LGBTQ+ causes or included queer representation in advertisements — they don’t even have gender neutral bathrooms.
Instead of empty efforts to incorporate more “inclusion” in their products, companies could prove they care about the cause by actually donating their business’s revenue to its efforts. Creating a rainbow wrapper for a burger does nothing outside of attract a greater audience of consumers and maybe result in an Instagram photo or two.
Wells Fargo, on the other hand, has been proving they care about the LGBTQ+ community by financially supporting the cause. They have been sponsoring gay pride parades since 1992 — far before it was socially trendy to do so.
And ever since then, Wells Fargo has continued to show their support for the community by donating millions of dollars a year to organizations like GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also showed his support when he donated $2.5 million to Washington United for Marriage, back before gay marriage was legalized in the United States, in order to keep the law enforced in that state.
Taking real action that will make a difference and proving they’re willing to spend a little of the business’s money to get there sets a genuine company’s efforts apart from thin attempts to make a quick buck.
3. Convince me that you care.
It’s pretty safe to say that, in 2018, selling something that’s pride-themed or running an ad with an LGBTQ-positive message during Pride Month is a smart business choice. It’s not as risky or brave as it might have been 20 or 30 years ago.
So, what does it mean when a company shows their support for the gay community? Do they genuinely care about the cause? Not necessarily — it really says something about a company when they’ve been longtime supporters of the movement.
For example, Absolut Vodka has been supporting the gay community for 30 years, even back when it wasn’t mainstream to do so openly. A company like this might be more trustworthy in their efforts for inclusivity over profit.
It’s also important that a company makes efforts outside of creating a new product or marketing campaign that will benefit the community. Coca-Cola has been outspoken about their support for the gay community, passing a new paid-family-leave policy in 2016 to allow for the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ families. Small gestures like this can really add up for those who face oppression in their day-to-day lives.
Ben & Jerry’s remains one of the best companies when it comes to social justice. They’ve openly supported every cause from global warming to the Black Lives Matter movement and everything in between.
They’ve outlined on their website how much they’ve done to substantially help the LGBTQ+ community over the past 20 years — such as signing amicus briefs to the Supreme Court and awarding grants to related organizations — proving they’ve taken real action beyond consumerist ploys.
But even knowing all this, it can be hard to tell when a company genuinely supports the LGBTQ+ community, and when they only care about the money. Iceland is working to solve this problem; sponsors aren’t allowed to show their logos during Pride parades there, proving they actually care about the cause and not about the commercialism.
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to question the intentions of an organization that’s seemingly trying to make a difference. But my best advice to anyone concerned about where they spend their money during Pride Month is to do your background research on a company before you end up contributing to a problematic marketing campaign.