Brands need to stop jumping on the bandwagon to make cash.
It’s Pride Month - and there’s no chance you haven’t noticed.
Pubs, bars and cafes are decked out in merry rainbow bunting and flags, and our favourite shops are full of much the same: slogan T-shirts, multi-coloured accessories and lots and lots of glitter.
On the surface, an increase in brands talking about and promoting LGBTQI+ rights may seem like a good thing, and it would be easy to argue that the widespread praise such campaigns receive speaks volumes for how far we’ve come in terms of acceptance. But it also speaks to a complete misunderstanding of both the history of LGBTQI+ protest and of LGBTQI+ issues as a whole.
It can also be pretty galling for those of us in the LGBTQI+ community who, for the rest of the year, go ignored and excluded. And the issues that go ignored are not insignificant, either.
LGBTQI+ people are more likely to experience mental health problems, for example: the Mental Health Foundation states that LGBTQI+ people are more likely to experience depression, suicidal thoughts, self harm and alcohol and substance misuse, often related to the discrimination, isolation and homophobia that we face.
According to charity Stonewall, more than 83% of young trans people have experienced “name calling or verbal abuse”, 60% have experienced “threats and intimidation”, and more than a third have experienced physical assault. 41% of trans people have been attacked or threatened with violence within the last five years, 48% have attempted suicide more than once, and 84% have “thought about it”. One in five LGBTQI+ people have been the victim of a hate crime - a figure that has risen 78% since 2013.
LGBTQI+ young people are also more likely to find themselves homeless than their straight peers. According to the Albert Kennedy Trust, 69% of homeless LGBTQI+ young people have experienced familial rejection, abuse or violence; whilst homeless, they are also more likely to experience targeted violence, sexual exploitation and physical and mental health problems.
These are just some of the very real issues that affect the LGBTQI+ community - issues that are not as easily translatable into pithy slogans to put on T-shirts and mugs. Our lives do not start and end in an annual parade, and it would be useful for brands and corporations to be mindful of this when they design and promote their campaigns.
Even publications like the Daily Mail have jumped on the bandwagon, already writing breathless articles about New York Pride this year. “New York City flies the rainbow flag as streets are filled with revelers celebrating the LGBTQ+ community during the 2018 Pride Parade” one video is titled; further approving articles on Lady Gaga, Cynthia Nixon, Janelle Monae can also be found on the MailOnline homepage.
The Mail’s track record with coverage of LGBTQI+ issues is not, it’s safe to say, brilliant. In 2016, the newspaper ran a story decrying traffic lights depicting same-sex couples crossing the road with the hysterical headline “what WOULD Nelson say?”; in the same year, a headline accusatively described a high court judge as “openly gay”.
In 2009, the paper received a record number of complaints after columnist Jan Moir described the death of Boyzone star Stephen Gately as “more than a little sleazy” and as “striking another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships”. This kind of history makes it particularly egregious that the Mail is courting clicks and pageviews with superficially positive coverage.
The issue with such campaigns is not only that they profit from the LGBTQI+ community - they also frequently get it wrong.
Case in point: the ADIDAS Prouder campaign, launched in time for London Pride. The campaign is in aid of the Albert Kennedy Trust, a charity working to tackle homelessness in the LGBTQI+ community. This, obviously, is great.
But getting a bunch of straight celebrities to explain what makes them proud? Less impressive.
One Direction star Liam Payne’s quote was particularly painful: saying that his son made him want to be a “better man”, and imploring everyone to “come together a bit more”. “If we all aimed for a better future, it would be easier,” he insightfully continued.
As writer Caspar Salmon put it on Twitter: “‘When’s straight pride?’ Don’t worry, it’s now, it’s literally now! Enjoy!”.
I've stared at this for about 15 minutes now. What? What is this? Is this a joke? What the fuck is going on? Are we just a little branding exercise now for the potato one from 1D and other straights of note? Someone, please, lead us out of this abyss! pic.twitter.com/ncgaWXNMnp— Caspar Salmon (@CasparSalmon) June 25, 2018
The reality of many LGBTQI+ people’s lives is not fully reflected in Pride, and nor could it ever be. Our lives are, more often than not, not a party, as the stats above more than testify to.
Pride, we should not forget, has its roots in radical protest - the first Pride parade in New York City was organised after the Stonewall riots in 1969. Corporate tie-ins are all well and good - who doesn’t love a nice crop top? The problem is when they take over the narrative, as has happened in the last few years.
It’s the erasure of this radical, explicitly political, history, that makes the co-option of the whole thing by brands particularly hard to swallow. Because despite the media tie-ins and corporate sponsorships, Pride is, at its heart, a protest. We’re angry for a reason. And there’s no amount of tacky rainbow-themed merchandise that could ever change that.
Images: Getty, Unsplash