Pride Month can be a joyful time, but it can also be a potential minefield for businesses if they use the message of Pride for their own advantage. While it’s an excellent time to celebrate and reflect upon the contributions and achievements of our LGBTQIA+ community, the ways that some brands have chosen to celebrate have hurt more than helped. Whether you’re part of the community yourself or consider yourself and your business an ally (or you want to become one), there’s always something new to learn.
In this post, we will cover some of the dos and don’ts for celebrating Pride Month as a business.
What is Pride Month?
Before we get into best practices, it’s essential to understand what Pride Month is and why we celebrate it. While the parties, parades, and general sense of love and acceptance in the community is fantastic, Pride’s origin comes from a dark place.
In the wee hours of the morning on June 28, 1969, police occupied the Stonewall Inn in New York City and began making arrests. Patrons in the bar started pushing back against the discriminatory actions of the NYPD, and by 4 a.m. protestors had grown so large that a new era of resistance and revolution was born.
That last paragraph was not nearly as descriptive as it could have been because StonewaIl is a complex and crucial historical event born of years of discrimination and the criminalization of the gay community.
If you’ve not heard of the Stonewall Riots/Uprising, you’ll find many resources from Wikipedia to podcasts to books and documentaries that will help empower you with knowledge so you can be a better ally.
Pride Month for Businesses
Using rainbows in your branding for June should not be a trend or a marketing ploy.
Pride Month and Pride Day are about celebrating and recognizing our LGBTQIA+ community, not about using Pride symbolism to give your brand a signal boost. If you’re going to change your logo or add Pride colors to your website, collateral, and social media, do it because your business is an ally, part of the community, honestly and sincerely celebrating Pride Month as a company.
If not, you will be called out, not only by employees but customers and fans of your business. Be sincere and honest; only use pride colors if you are celebrating what they stand for.
Don’t force employees to participate just because they’re LGBTQIA+; they’re people, not tokens.
Sadly, I’ve seen this played out by even the most well-intentioned business: Pride Month spotlights and highlights for the sake of being “woke.” It’s lovely to highlight stories, accomplishments, and community members who want to do so.
I’ve met at least a handful of people who have felt their company highlighted them without their full consent. Keep in mind that just because someone is out at work or around you doesn’t mean they’re out to their families or want to be highlighted. Some people are private; some are not; this is regardless of gender or sexual preference. People who are comfortable with being highlighted should be allowed to do so, but only in a way set by them, not by you.
If you include Pride messaging in your marketing, make it about the celebration, not about your product.
From Chipotle to Oreos, there have been Pride Month fails all over the map. From a shirt that asks you if you’re gay to a whitewashed candy, where businesses fall short is a lack of understanding of what Pride Month is actually about and how they can use their clout to advance the cause and spread awareness of the challenges the community faces every day.
If you choose to celebrate, ensure that your messaging highlights the cause and not your products and services unless directly related to the message. For instance, if you sell software, showing a rainbow version of your dashboard is not ok.
Don’t hijack the conversation; lend your platform.
Don’t let Pride be all about you; it’s not. It would be a good idea to find Pride groups and organizations in your community and use your platform to share their content. That way, you’re sharing their voice without hijacking it.
Remember when everyone posted black squares on Instagram with #BLM to help raise awareness? An unintended consequence of this flooded the hashtag with black squares to the point it started preventing people in the movement from getting and sharing critical information.
Think of ways to leverage your platform to let other voices be heard and other stories be shared.
It’s not all rainbows.
While Pride seems synonymous with ROYGBIV, there are other flags and other colors that represent the LGBTQIA+ community, too. While the rainbow flag is the most ubiquitous, check out the other flags that exist, as well, that might more closely align with your mission and values.
If you’re overwhelmed, pick a topic.
Pride month covers a lot, and as the LGBTQIA+ community expands to welcome more people, the issues can feel overwhelming. Find a topic or cause that resonates with you and stick to that.
For instance, if the Black Lives Matter movement is near to your heart, it might be worth learning more about and lending your voices to black transgender people. If gender equality is your thing, highlight more than just cis-gendered women.
If some of these terms are confusing, it’s ok. Everyone starts somewhere.
Pride Month isn’t just about the dates.
If you choose to celebrate and show support during national or local pride month, all of the issues for LGBTQIA+ community members don’t just end on June 30th. If you genuinely want to help, find local organizations that help fight for rights and awareness of social and legal issues throughout the year.
If you’re in Austin, you may notice our Pride celebrations happen later in the year in August, but National Pride Month is the month of June and National Pride Day is June 28th.
If you don’t want to celebrate Pride, then don’t.
Not every business chooses to celebrate Pride, and that’s ok. What’s not ok is disparaging or belittling brands that do. Pride Month and Pride Day are not mandatory.
This also goes for people employed for a business that celebrates. If an employee expresses discomfort with group celebrations, then react with kindness and understanding. Nothing reinforces fear and anger, like the feeling of being pushed into something.
Pride Month for Businesses Dos and Don’ts
We’ve all made mistakes, and we’ve all meant well and still made a mess. The important thing is to learn from these errors and continue to progress forward together as a community. If you are genuinely and sincerely committed to celebrating the community, then empower yourself and your team with knowledge so you know the issues and how you can help, not just in June but all year-round.
If you do make a mistake? Own up to it. People are much more likely to forgive a sincere apology than branding double-speak.