As Pride Month kicked off on June 1, businesses both small and large have plastered both rainbow and transgender flags across their store fronts in solidarity with the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Seeing these flags is a refreshing reminder of the progress that the LGBTQ community has made in gaining support on both a national and global level.
In cities across the world, Pride Month is celebrated with large-scale parades, street fairs, parties and events all honoring those who inspired the conversation of LGBT rights and the history of the riots at Stonewall Inn.
Although Pride Month is a great way to celebrate diversity and inclusivity, many public figures and large companies will label themselves as LGBTQ allies to gain support or to make money by selling products that seem to be LGBTQ friendly. Aside from companies that openly oppose same-sex marriages, like Chik-fil-A, the popular fast-food chain that is notoriously known for its “traditional” ideologies, the brands that act in support of the community during June are all a part of a larger marketing scheme.
So, during this Pride Month, when you’re out shopping and supporting businesses, be mindful of which companies or brands are actually allies, and which ones are actors only attempting to gain consumer support from the community and its proponents. Below is a list of three commonly known companies that might surprise you to be LGBTQ+ ally imposters.
1. Urban Outfitters
Urban Outfitters has been a popular clothing store for many years. Being a supplier for several popular streetwear brands on top of their own labels, they have a vast array of options available to make trendy looks achievable for teenagers and young adults.
Their website currently has a page dedicated to Pride Month that highlights the various employee and customer efforts and the store’s products available for purchase, whose proceeds go to LGBTQ organizations, such as GLSEN. However, a deeper look at the company’s leadership shows that the company may stand for something else.
Urban Outfitter’s president, co-founder and current CEO, Richard Hayne, has a history of being anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-abortion, among other hot-topic social issues. In a 2003 profile on Richard Hayne by Philadelphia Weekly, Hayne’s donations to then-Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, sparked controversy, as many of Urban Outfitter’s customers were considered liberals and Santorum had made crude comments about same-sex couples.
During his interview, Hayne said, “Our job as a business is not to promote a political agenda.” Regardless of how long ago these comments were made, Hayne is still the CEO, and in a time where there’s so much political turmoil and increased pressure on oppressing marginalized individuals, knowing the history of the company you’re supporting is just as important as what their stance on political issues are now.
H&M, another clothing brand popular among, well, everyone, released a clothing collection during last year’s Pride Month that donated 10 percent of their sales to the U.N. Free and Equal Campaign, an organization dedicated to LGBTQ rights. On the surface, releasing the collection made it look like H&M was trying to voice their support for the LGBTQ community, but it wasn’t long before people began to express concern over the company’s true intentions.
The first concern brought up was the actual amount of money that was donated to the U.N. Free and Equal Campaign. Since H&M is a multi-billion-dollar company, only donating 10 percent from a select few products seemed measly in comparison to the profit usually made by the company. This unbalanced equation prompted people to wonder whether or not the company actually cared about supporting the community, or if the collection was just an easy way to promote themselves as activists and market themselves as such, especially during June.
The other concern was H&M’s production of their pride collection in countries where, according to The New York Times, there is anti-LGBTQ legislation, such as Bangladesh, China, India and Turkey. If H&M is willing to produce their pride collection in countries where being gay is illegal, the marketing decision poses the question of how aware the company truly is of LGBTQ issues.
This event followed a stream of reports of H&M being tone-deaf after having an African-American child model a shirt that read “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle,” while others questioned the legitimacy of their clothing-recycling program, even though they have clothing waste from their own products that is worth billions of dollars. While there is no arguing that H&M puts in an effort, for such a large-scale company it needs to try harder to fulfill its potential to aid the LGBTQ+ community.
3. Victoria’s Secret
Okay, so Victoria’s Secret has a little bit more of a targeted audience in terms of their consumers and they don’t specifically sell any products related to Pride Month, but there is a solid reason for them being on this list of LGBTQ ally imposters. In 2018, the chief marketing officer of L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, issued a statement saying that he didn’t think Victoria’s Secret should cast transgender models for their (already controversial) annual fashion show, because the show is trying to sell a fantasy.
Naturally, there was a great deal of backlash, which opened the conversation that the models casted were lacking any sort of diversity including transgender women, disabled women or plus-sized women. The executive issued an apology statement, but why support a brand that is so close-minded to the idea of inclusivity and realizing that there are different kinds of people that live outside the bounds of the ideology of what gender “should” be?
There has been an increasing number of individuals coming out as transgender, genderqueer or non-binary, and brands like Victoria’s Secret shouldn’t be able to dictate what sells as sexy or not.
Being mindful of whom we support, whether it be in terms of companies or even public figures, requires a heightened sense of awareness in 2019. Buying a cheap T-shirt with a rainbow pattern on it might seem insignificant, but supporting mega-brands can be quite damaging to the grander scheme of progress.
Instead of purchasing from brands like these three during Pride Month, find smaller retailers or brands that have a history of supporting the LGBTQ rights agenda. They’ve often partnered with great organizations (that will most likely have T-shirts) who can also help provide knowledge of what Pride Month is really all about.