Brands need to take Pride seriously

Earlier this month, the world was shocked when two women who were travelling on a bus in London after a date were homophobically attacked. A photograph of the two women, visibly shaken and dripping in blood, swept across the internet, with social media awash with pronouncements of sympathy, or disbelief, or disgust. The world was captivated by a story of blatant homophobia in a world that should have progressed beyond it.

Following the incident, one of the two women, Chris, published a moving and articulate article recognising the breadth of the response, but urging people to engage with LGBTQ+ issues in a longer-term and more meaningful way. She emphasised that speaking out against homophobia and showing support for the LGBTQ+ community must be more than skin deep. We can’t only pay lip service to these issues, we must engage with them meaningfully and credibly. We must never, ever treat it as a bandwagon.

We’ve spoken before about how brands get behind Pride, and with this year’s celebration upon us, brands from myriad categories and countries have embraced the rainbow motif and paid homage to the LGBTQ+ community with special edition products, events and adverts. Adidas have made rainbow-injected footwear, while Converse have made a whole Pride-themed collection. Pride is edible, in LGBT sandwiches, that you can wash down with Budweiser’s Pride-themed beers. You can Pride-ify your computer, from Microsoft Office to Facebook. It seems like the Pride rainbow even stretches over US politics. Last month it surfaced that Donald Trump, under whom a discriminatory ban was passed stopping transgender Americans from serving in the military and whose Department of Justice has refused to protect LGBTQ+ Americans from , has made Pride editions of his ‘Make America Great Again’ hats.

Pride-themed Trump hats. Apparently it’s a thing.

In light of the London bus attack earlier this month, and Chris’s poignant words that followed them, we believe that brands need to work hard to ensure that engaging with Pride is done with integrity. While it is not off-limits for brands, it is a serious issue of identity, and it is important for brands to remember that it cannot be treated as an annual holiday, with festivity and lightness. It must instead be treated with gravity, backed with real action, support and tangible change.

Take Sephora. For Pride last year, the beauty brand held makeup classes for trans and non-binary people, showing people how to use their products and covering topics including skin smoothing and other makeup subjects that were identified by trans people as topics where coaching would be useful. With these classes, that were free to attend, Sephora did not only acknowledge members of the LGBTQ+ community, but connected with individuals based on their specific needs. Going beyond campaigns and slogans, Sephora showed real commitment. And it’s not the first time Sephora has demonstrated a willingness to take tangible action. Following a serious misstep concerning singer Sza and a racial profiling incident, Sephora shut its stores to send all its staff on Diversity Training.

Sephora’s 2019 Campaign ‘Identify As We’

Or MAC, who like many other beauty brands has rainbow glitter ranges and a ‘Pride Looks’ part on their website, but importantly, also supports the MAC AIDS Fund, that was launched in 1994 and has since raised more than $500 million to fight to end HIV/AIDS, making real change to an issue that remains important to the LGBTQ+ community.

Pride began as a riot, and has evolved into an event that lives in the mainstream, with more people recognising it, engaging with it and attending it than ever before. But while a celebratory atmosphere might pervade in some places, incidents like the homophobic bus attack on a queer couple this month should send a strong message to brands: tread respectfully and if you’re going to stand up with Pride, do so with integrity. Be a driver of change, and don’t just use the LGBTQ+ people to sell products, treat them as valued members of your consumer base.

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