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Has Pride Month become too corporate?

June is internationally recognised as Pride Month. It’s intended to be a sign of solidarity that celebrates LGBTQIA+ communities across the world – but while there are those who disagree with some aspects of the modern Pride movement, many view it as a shallow gesture of ‘virtue signalling’.

For a full 30 days, vivid flags flutter and brands clamour to boast LGBT-inclusive content that shows they’re allies – but at what point does ramped-up visibility become an empty marketing gimmick, and is Pride becoming too corporate?

For such a colourful community, the answer is rarely black and white: In 64 countries, being gay is illegal. In the UK, hate crimes are on the rise and discrimination is still common. Brands ultimately do use Pride to boost their profile and appeal to a target audience – but I for one am grateful for their clumsy yet well-intentioned recognition.

Yes, corporations aren’t exactly subtle in their approach to pride – but neither are we. Whatever your view, it can’t be denied that Pride Month creates unavoidable visibility. Let’s explore why that’s important.

 

Hate crimes are on the rise

Hate crime in the UK has surged by a staggering 268% since 2013  (from 42,255 to 155,841 reported incidents in 2022). These, sadly, are also the only reported incidents. Other factors hold back victims from lodging a record of their abuse with authorities – among other things, a perceived lack of follow-through.

As a gay man myself, I’ve personally been the victim of multiple hate crimes because of my sexuality. For the first, I was just 16, walking down a tree-lined street, hand-in-hand with another boy when a car screeched to a halt behind us and a figure emerged who (I’m told) broke a glass bottle over my head before fleeing the scene in a car full of baying blokes.

I woke up some time later at a friend’s house and was told they had reported it to the police – but I don’t recall any follow-ups or action of any kind. In fact, nothing came of it at all, besides a blistering headache.

The last incident was only two weeks ago in Lincoln when some passing lads hurled verbal abuse at me just metres outside my front door.

It sounds simple, but it’s times like these that the sight of a rainbow flag and a kind message dispels this lingering fear. It asserts that someone – most people in fact – are on your side.

Jamie Hogue pictured at Lincoln Pride in 2010 at the University of Lincoln
Jamie Hogue (me) pictured at Lincoln Pride in 2010 at the University of Lincoln

Brands “totally dominate” Pride Month

“We are totally opposed to the way in which Pride in London has become so corporate and so commercial. Brands totally dominate the official parade and overshadow the LGBT+ community groups who should be the focus of pride.”

These are strong words from prominent gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, speaking to Sky News recently on behalf of the Gay Liberation Front. As someone who has attended every Pride march since 1972 and who continues to be a stalwart advocate for the LGBTQIA+, Peter has a point – and an incredibly well-informed one at that.

He knows that Pride was born out of mounting civil unrest among gay and lesbian communities in the UK and overseas. Fed up with being fired from their jobs, refused custody of their children and denied service in pubs, LGBT+ people gravitated towards safe spaces – which were then systematically targeted by police and ransacked.

Eventually, the first in a series of spontaneous riots broke out in the early hours of Saturday 28 June 1969 at The Stonewall Inn in New York. Over time, this led to the first Gay Pride March, held on the same date each year.

Sentenced under ‘Sodomy’ – the right to life

While much has changed in terms of wider societal acceptance since then, that isn’t the case everywhere. The chances are you’re reading this from the UK, which means that visibility won’t land you in jail – but 64 countries around the world aren’t so lucky.

Like the colour spectrum and shades of sexuality, the punishments for engaging in consensual same-sex acts vary WILDLY. In Algeria, you’ll receive a fine and up to two years in Prison; in Zambia, it’s a 10-year ‘life’ sentence – but in other locales, a ‘life’ sentence means exactly that.

In 12 countries across the globe, being gay is legally punishable by death. In Brunei, a man found to be in a consenting same-sex relationship faces death by stoning. In fact, Uganda passed a law only last month that tightens their anti-LGBT stance, making the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” completely legal.

Why Pride is pivotal

While I concede that Pride Month is becoming more saturated with corporations and emboldened brands jumping on the bandwagon, I think it’s important to take the win here. Remember, brands cater to the masses.

Yes, for some it may be a blatant excuse to flaunt their wares under slightly more colourful branding, but the sheer fact that they feel the need to sell to LGBT audiences and allies proves that there is strength in numbers – and the community is growing.

At least, it seems to be because there is more information available about what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex and asexual. This is creating more understanding attitudes that don’t automatically vilify us for having “the cheek, the nerve, the gall, the audacity and the gumption” to bother existing.

Whether brands treat the LGBT community as a worthy cause that deserves respect or a core demographic that they can flog their colourful tat to, the visibility corporations lend to Pride Month can’t be understated.

However, care needs to be taken to highlight the social importance of having Pride to ensure that its core values are at the forefront so that LGBTQIA+ people feel safe enough to grow into their honest selves.

When you consider that LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to commit suicide, I’m sure you’ll agree that a little visibility can go a long way into changing attitudes and sterilising stigma.

Marketing managers, take pride in your promotions

If you’re a marketing manager for a brand and you’re unsure whether sharing an affirmative pride post or running a Pride Month campaign is in your best interest, my advice to you is this: go for it. 

That is, as long as you genuinely support the ideals of Pride Month and you’re not covertly supporting anti-LGBT causes or legislation – which classes as ‘rainbow washing’. Ideally, you should practice what you preach and either support diversity within your team or go out of your way to support an LGBT cause, but if you’re erring away from showing solidarity, I’d urge you to reconsider.

You’ll not only share a timely message that shows you’re paying attention to current trends, but you could make someone from a marginalised and often misunderstood community feel that much more secure about their place in the world.