From Protest to Party: Why Corporate Brands Need to Stop Hijacking Pride and Let Us Riot
Molly Greeves on why the iconic festival celebrating the LBGT+ community must return to its roots if it is to have a real impact on social change.
On 28 June 1969, a group of LBGT+ people fought for their rights when police raided a gay bar in New York City. It was a turning point for the movement.
As the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots has come and gone, many people are torn between feeling hopeful at how things have improved and disheartened at what Pride has become.
How corporate Pride has become was hard to ignore this year. Huge businesses were sponsoring parades, paying LBGT+ influencers to advertise for them and expressing their support on Twitter. For many, this is evidence of the progress that the gay rights movement has made. Certainly, it’s proof that the profits to be made from exploiting an oppressed group can finally outweigh the backlash from angry homophobic customers. But, other than having the privilege of buying metallic rainbow hot pants, this excessive bandwagoning has not done much to improve LGBT+ lives.
Though we deserve to cover ourselves in glitter and party, we’re not at the point where we can put our feet up and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.
The marketing choices of the last month are a perfect example of “performative wokeness” – a phrase that is nearly as cringeworthy to say as it is to experience. In an attempt to appeal to young activists and members of minority groups, people and products are ‘performing activism’ without actually doing anything at all.
As soon as 1 June comes around, everyone from Theresa May to Taylor Swift suddenly considers themselves an ally, and – while growth should always be encouraged – these declarations of support have come at a suspiciously convenient time. These people have enough money and power to make a difference, yet, they only speak up when there’s a potential to gain more money and more power for themselves.
May claims to regret her anti-LGBT+ voting history, but where was her support when she was skipping arm-in-arm with Donald Trump? And it’s great that Taylor Swift loves queer people enough to parade them around in a music video, but why wasn’t she using her huge platform during the 2016 US elections to do something? Encouraging people to sign a petition is wonderful, but during her decade-long career, she could have done a lot more.
Genuine allyship from public figures is invaluable, and it’s disappointing to see people using Pride for their own gain, or not using their influence and money to make a genuine difference. Lady Gaga is the perfect example. Despite being a member of the LBGT+ community, she never speaks out on behalf of others. Her potential level of commitment is something a brand would never be able to deliver because it comes from a place of genuine love and respect. No matter how much they claim that they care, companies exist to make money and, if supporting and celebrating Pride wasn’t profitable, they would not do it.
Stonewall’s Work Report shows that 18% of LGBT+ people in Britain have faced targeted discrimination and 12% of trans people have been physically attacked while at work. Despite plastering rainbows over anything and everything, these statistics show that many companies aren’t doing the bare minimum to keep their employees safe, let alone extending family leave to LGBT+ employees or changing their hiring strategies. Skipping over the work that protects LBGT+ rights and jumping straight to the public allyship that makes them money is hugely hypocritical and, honestly, it’s insulting to our intelligence that they think we’ll fall for it.
Other than having the privilege of buying metallic rainbow hot pants, this excessive bandwagoning has not done much to improve LGBT+ lives.
Pride is, and will always be, an important event. Even if, by some miracle, queer people around the world are granted the rights and respect they deserve, having the space to celebrate and remember LGBT+ history is necessary.
But, we’re not at that point yet. Queer people are still being harassed, put on the streets, and denied their rights to marriage and adoption. Though we deserve to cover ourselves in glitter and party, we’re not at the point where we can put our feet up and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. It’s time to reconvene and re-energise and, unless public figures and brands are using their influence to create real change, they need to step aside.