Every Company Is Embracing Pride. Is It Marketing or Sincere?

Michael Beausoleil

It’s June. You update an app on your phone for routine bug fixes. All of a sudden, the icon looks different. Rather than a solid background, you’re now looking at a rainbow print tile. 

For the past few years, it seems every company has been embracing Pride. Presidents such as Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden have all acknowledged June as a time to honor LGBTQ+ people. Even Donald Trump recognized the celebration in 2019, though it was just through Twitter. June is the chosen month due to the 1969 Stonewall riots, where citizens protested anti-LGBT laws in Manhattan. In the decades since, many major companies embraced the opportunity to demonstrate their support for LGBTQ+ people and their ability to present their identities openly. 

Pride has become a very common celebration in the United States, and companies have allowed the occasion to be reflected in their branding. It’s common to see rainbow flags incorporated into profile pictures, cover photos, website headers, or app icons. This certainly increases visibility for queer communities, and as time has progressed different flags have been showcased. It almost feels as if brands need to embrace Pride to be politically correct.

Brands with Pride logoscanva

We’re in the middle of another Pride Month. Hundreds of brands have shown their support through their digital footprints. Sometimes, we have to wonder if this is just performative or if the brands really care. There’s no doubt that brands want queer communities to spend their money. There are doubts that they care about the people more than their dollars. 

Showing the Rainbow

When you see a company putting Pride into their logos, that company has identified itself as an LGBTQ+ friendly establishment. People who want to go shopping or present themselves publicly value these safe-spaces. At the very least this shows companies want to be a welcoming environment for all people. This isn’t just important to members of the LGBTQ+ community; it’s also important to allies and family members.

Target Pride sectionBunny Birdy Gator on YouTube

At its core, Pride is about acceptance. Companies who choose to display the rainbow should also make efforts to allow queer people to feel welcomed. It’s not about ignoring straight people or making them feel unwelcome. Rather, it’s about normalizing different identities and making them feel included. Customers and staff need to know their identities are valued, and incorporating flags into branding welcomes communities. 

While June may be a time to openly display this message, companies can be sure their hypocrisy will be noted if they don’t maintain the same level of acceptance during the other eleven months. Embracing Pride is an attempt to involve the company in a social justice movement. With this comes a level of social responsibility, and that doesn’t end with a calendar month. It’s year round, and requires reversal of any prior mistakes. 

When same-sex marriage became a national right in the United States in 2015, it became easier and more common for brands to display approval for same-sex partnerships. This seems to embrace the L,G, and B, but other identities do not have the same protections. In 2021, it’s common to see more flags than just the rainbow, and new colors are being added. This is a sign of solidarity for queer identities, but many companies need to make active efforts to truly align with these communities. 

Pandering or Politics

Simply putting a rainbow flag in a logo isn’t necessarily an empty gesture. It can be viewed as a welcome sign for LGBTQ+ populations, and it demonstrates some level of caring. Then, customers see the merchandising. There are flags, t-shirts, water bottles, even dog toys. This can come across as a cash grab that does little to help LGBTQ+ efforts.

In some cases, there are good reasons to purchase Pride-themed products from a store. Many companies will make a donation to a charity when specific products are purchased.

J.Crew Factory PrideJ. Crew Factory

Not all products are created equally, and they certainly don’t all donate equally. Some companies may “donate” $15 for each t-shirt sold, but the mark-up is passed onto the customer. Sometimes there’s a small donation made, but the product doesn’t have a noticeable price increase. There are also cases where there is no donation, but the product itself is a collaboration with queer artists or designers. 

Then, there are the brands that don’t make any contributions. While this certainly isn’t ideal, it doesn’t make the availability of products less important. For example, young adults might only have the ability to Pride merchandise from Target. Even if this doesn’t directly contribute to a charitable cause, these products are more accessible and affordable than ever before. It may be the best opportunity for someone to express their identity without additional efforts. 

Ultimately, it’s up to the consumers. They can choose whether they feel products and services are unworthy of their dollars, and sometimes they want more than just a rainbow print. If companies want to benefit from a social cause, they have some responsibility to contribute to that cause.  

Progressing LGBTQ+ Causes

There was a time when it felt companies tolerated queer identities. Now, many companies are embracing queer communities and welcoming them. This is indicative of acceptance, but it’s easy to overlook the fight that went into LGBTQ+ rights. In June, we ought to reflect on the people who jeopardized their wellbeing and safety to express themselves openly. Part of embracing Pride is working toward progress, not just tolerance or acceptance. 

While same-sex marriages are nationally recognized, other communities continue to face struggles. In recent times, there has been an emphasis on trans and non-binary individuals. While many companies want to demonstrate they care about Pride month, they might not be willing to put forward the effort to help progress queer communities. 

Many factors go into this, but there are questions people may ask before accepting the sincerity of a company’s efforts. 

Are Bathrooms Inclusive?

In recent years, many companies (notably Target) have faced backlash over their bathroom policies. While cisgender people may never need to think about using a public restroom, it becomes a safety concern for trans people. If a company does not allow customers to use the restroom aligning with their gender identities, they’re ignoring the T in “LGBT.” Some companies have adopted single-person “all gender” restrooms. Whatever the corporate policy, no one should need to out themselves because they need to use the toilet. 

Does The Company Contribute to Anti-LGBT Causes?

Politics have played a huge role in branding during the 2020’s, and many companies have been noted for contributing to anti-LGBT causes and politicians. These corporations have made statements about their support of queer communities, but that doesn’t erase their donations to anti-LGBT parties in the past. Companies like AT&T, Home Depot, and FedEx all have a history of making anti-LGBT contributions. Perhaps they’ve learned from their mistakes, but they could lose dollars due to their prior donations. 

Are Health Policies Trans-Inclusive?

Individuals who are trans or non-binary may have medical needs to affirm their identities that have been historically overlooked by health care policies. Some companies are modifying coverage to include gender-affirming care and procedures, but it is still a struggle for many individuals to get the services they need. This is not limited to drugs and procedures; it includes mental health. While some companies may not offer any health coverage to employees (especially part-time), supporting queer communities means allowing them to live healthy lives. 

What Are the Parental Leave Policies?

While many companies allow new parents to take time off of work, it’s common for companies to assume a heteronormative family structure when allowing for parental leave. In the LGBTQ+ community, starting a family can look very different. Depending on the person, adoption or fertility treatments may be required. Companies with reduced paternity leave or lacking support for non-traditional parenting are inherently anti-LGBT. 

Progress Flagathleteally

Are Companies Committed to Progress?

In 2021, companies are putting more than just a rainbow in their branding. It’s common to see the white, pink, and light blue for the trans community. There’s black and brown stripes for people living with HIV/AIDS and the support of people of color. When you see these colors displayed, it should mean the brand aligns with the represented causes. If the company doesn’t support them all, they’re just appeasing the masses without putting in any effort. 

Embracing Pride

Any company wanting to embrace queer identities can incorporate the flag into their branding. While it may get overbearing at times, especially the start of June, it’s also a huge change from decades ago. Representation is important, and companies who are willing to advocate for their queer customers and employees have the right to celebrate Pride with them. 

When it comes to business, the money is always going to be involved. Social progress has increased the acceptance of homosexuality, so it seems companies want to be on the right side of history. When companies decorate for Pride like they decorate for Christmas, the monetary incentive comes into question. You’re unlikely to appease everyone, but some people expect more than just visibility. They know companies have money and they want the dollars to match the decorations.

Acceptance shouldn’t be a single-month event. In fact, acceptance shouldn’t be the standard. The real objective should be social progress. Companies who have modified policies and made their corporate structures more inclusive are the ones who are aligned with LGBTQ+ communities. That’s not to say companies can’t change their policies and work to improve their social standing. However, people will not be forgiving of elective ignorance. If you want to display all the colors, support all the colors. It’s that simple. 

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Writer, educator, and a few other things.

San Diego, CA

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