June 1marked the beginning of Pride Month, an annual celebration of LGBT courage, culture and history. What began in 1969 as a revolution in the streets of Greenwich Village is perhaps best known today as a corporate marketing extravaganza. While gay consumers and their allies once celebrated any brand brave enough to make a statement in support of gay rights, today the bar for success is set much higher.
This month, “Gay Twitter” and the LGBT blogosphere are more likely to mock brands’ Pride campaigns than to praise them. Many decry their outreach as “rainbow capitalism,” or brands shamelessly striving for gay consumers’ dollars without really attempting to understand them or meet their needs. “Gay Twitter” has started to mock these brand partnerships, such as @ericahalli’s “as a gay teenager, i felt like i couldn’t stand up for myself and always felt like a chicken. that’s why, for this pride month, i’ve partnered with chick-fil-a.”
And some media outlets have started calling out companies that support Pride but also make contributions to politicians who support anti-gay legislation. Fortune recently published a piece exposing brands such as Toyota, AT&T, Comcast and State Farm for sponsoring Pride events, but also helping to pass legislation that could infringe on the rights of gay Americans. And Jezebel published a slide show juxtaposing brands’ Pride statements with their hateful jokes, theft of employee wages, denial of benefits and anti-gay political contributions.
Even the colors of Pride are evolving. The classic Six-Color Pride Flag (red, orange, yellow, green, indigo and violet) started flying in the late 1970s. In 2017, the Philadelphia Pride Flag added brown and black, to better represent communities of color. The transgender community has added pink and light blue. And the Progress Pride Flag is now the new standard, incorporating the original six colors as horizontal stripes, and the more recent additions as a forward-pointing arrow.
With all these literal and figurative red flags, how can brands shine during Pride?
*Collaborate with your LGBT ERG. They’re your best resource for insights on the LGBT community, how your brand is perceived in the community, and how to elevate those perceptions. Taco Bell worked with its Live Más Pride Employee Resource Group to develop the Taco Bell Drag Brunch Tour, visiting five Taco Bell Cantinas across the country this spring. The tour earned some jabs from Gay Twitter, but it’s employee-developed, promotes drag culture, connects to Taco Bell in a meaningful way, increases awareness of the Cantina concept, and highlights the work of the It Gets Better Project. How can your LGBT employees better connect your brand with the community?
*Partner with a nonprofit. Pride shouldn’t be about picking the pockets of gay consumers, but about giving back to the community. Just as Taco Bell works with It Gets Better, other brands partner with The Trevor Project, GLAAD and local organizations to spotlight their work, connect them with potential donors and volunteers, and donate proceeds from their Pride promotions. What LGBT organizations could your brand support?
*Treat employees right. Tesla and Raytheon, among others, boast of perfect scores on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. Before you slap a rainbow flag on your Twitter handle, make sure you have your house in order. Offer LGBT benefits and policies that meet the moment. These are also constantly evolving, and today might include benefits such as travel assistance for gender-affirming healthcare.By following these best practices, brands can take Pride in their treatment of LGBT colleagues and consumers, not just in June, but every month of the year.