Pride month is almost here, and while fewer brands seem to be participating this year, two powerful new campaigns are bypassing rainbows and glitter for genuine emotion.
For Them, a D2C brand that markets chest binders to the queer, trans and nonbinary community, is running a love letter to drag artists. Set in the Garden of Eden, photos remind people of how imaginative drag can be. "So hot they started a culture war for us," says one. "Drag is Divine: It needs no intervention," says another.
"We chose the Adam and Eve imagery, not so much because it's religious but because drag and gender-bending expression have always been here," says Kylo Freeman, the company's founder and chief executive officer.
And the effort is meant to rally support for drag artists and the whole LGBTQ universe, currently under attack from far-right conservatives that portray gender issues as a "new" evil.
Anti-drag legislation is now on the books in 13 states.
"We have a responsibility to stand up to our mission, which is safety, wellness and happiness for queer folks," Freeman (whose pronoun is "they") tell Marketing Daily. "For us, drag is play – and it is core to our community."
One challenge for the brand is keeping its message positive and affirming, even as attacks against those in the LGBTQ world escalate.
"I don't want to trauma bond with anyone, and everyone knows all the terrible things happening. Does it help me to hold that up in a campaign and say, 'Look how terrible life is for you right now?' How can we be light without being toxically optimistic? So we're looking to find that balance of awareness."
The subway ads and wheat pastings are running in New York, Los Angeles and London, raising awareness and fundraising for nonprofits. Those include ACLU Drag Defense and Drag Story Hour.
Freeman started For Them selling chest binders. "That was a particular problem that I was dealing with," they says. "But I see us as a wellness and health company as much as an apparel brand."
The company has some venture backing and plans to branch out with campaigns that are similarly vocal, as well as new products that include underwear, T-shirts and candles.
At Calvin Klein, this year's Pride push is going for full-on joy with "Let It Out." The company calls the new effort a celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community's "collective euphoria."
Actors Amandla Stenberg and Brandon Flynn star in the effort, photographed by Karim Sadli in high-energy videos. The young stars travel in and out of black-and-white frames, sporting the brand's Pride collection, which includes rainbow shades and "This Is Love" embroidery.
The company says it is a year-round supporter of Pride and has donated $220,000 this year to related nonprofits.
This collection also includes two limited-edition T-shirts. One says, "Empower Each Other," with proceeds going to ILGA World. Another says, "Show Up For Trans Youth," and supports the Transgender Law Center.