Unless you have been living under an unremarkable, non-sparkly rock this month, you will have spotted rainbow flags, banners, decorations and other jolly paraphernalia adorning certain shop windows and high streets for Pride Month.
From June 1 to June 30 every year, events of all sizes, shapes and forms take place across the world (global pandemics notwithstanding) to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and to pay tribute to those involved in the Stonewall riots of the late Sixties.
The riots, considered a significant turning point for the gay liberation movement, were sparked in response to a violent police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City, starting on June 28, 1969.
Following the protests, activist groups were formed and newspapers set up to campaign for gay rights, pushing for safe spaces, equality in society and, most importantly, to be heard, understood and accepted.
Heralded as the beginning of change, exactly a year on from the Stonewall riots, the first Pride marches were organised in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles; today at least 150 parades take place globally every year.
Now, more than 50 years since the fight for LGBT equality began in earnest and, as an agency proud to champion and support the community however we can, we are all too aware of the work still to be done on a societal scale.
Focussing on our own industry, it is now commonplace to see many retailers and brands showing support for Pride Month, some more superficially than others.
This begs the question – is flying the rainbow flag really enough?
Certain brands are criticised for their efforts and can be accused of jumping on the bandwagon or virtue signalling while making a fast buck off the back of such an important issue.
Take M&S for example, who launched an LGBT (lettuce, guacamole, bacon and tomato) sandwich in 2019 and was faced with a huge backlash on social media, despite making a donation to the Albert Kennedy Trust, a charity helping members of the community in housing crisis.
So what is the right way for brands to show acceptance, allegiance and support without causing offence?
It is all very well slapping rainbows across your various channels, whether physical or digital, but does your organisation have a strategy to genuinely get behind LGBT staff and customers, promote diversity and fight for change?
This Pride Month, we have identified a selection of brands making rainbow waves, hoping to make a difference.
Levis has a long history of supporting the Pride movement and this year’s campaign entitled ‘All Pronouns, All Love’ features a special collection of garments to celebrate diversity.
Most impressively, 100 per cent of the net profit resulting from sales of these garments goes directly to OutRight Action International, a non-profit organisation that defends and improves human rights for LGBTQIA+ people all over the world.
Similarly, Primark launched its most recent Pride collection and continues to work alongside ILGA World, an organisation bringing together LGBT groups globally and helping to advance equality in more than 150 countries.
Many brands work hard behind the scenes too, ensuring all employees feel included and represented.
The John Lewis Partnership runs a variety of networks backing diversity and inclusion at work, including the Pride in the Partnership network that focuses on the LGBT community and its allies, promoting increased visibility and support.
Johnson & Johnson is another wonderful example of a brand going the extra mile as it fully encourages and supports the life decisions of all its employees; they enjoy inclusive health benefits such as help towards fertility treatments, surrogacy and adoption for same sex couples as well as accessible care for those going through gender transition.
Despite the positive and progressive work of these brands and others, many are still learning and more needs to be done to improve inclusion and provide the necessary backing and help for marginalised groups.
LGBT charity, Stonewall, releases a Top 100 Employers list collated from the Workplace Equality Index every year, although it was not put together during the height of the pandemic, so the current report was published in early 2020.
The list features individual organisations excelling when it comes to inclusion and also categorises the organisations by sector, shining a light on the most supportive industries for LGBT community members to work within.
In 2020, only two companies featured in the Top 100 Employers were from the retail sector – Sainsbury’s and Enterprise Rent-a-Car.
Paul Twocock, Stonewall’s interim chief executive, said in an online statement: “The staff feedback showed encouraging results. More non-LGBT employees told us they support equality than in 2019, and 80 per cent of LGBT employees said that they feel able to be themselves at work.
“When it comes to seeking support at work, most LGBT employees said they would feel confident reporting homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying to their employers.
“But the fight for equality is far from over. LGBT people continue to face discrimination in all walks of life, including in the workplace.”
So, while the fight for LGBTQ+ equality continues to gather pace and visibility within our industry, it is important for brands to keep it high on the agenda, have clear and workable strategies in place to embrace and support the community, and never stop pushing for change.
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