Adrienne Rochetti, Senior Director, Social Impact
On the heels of World Pride Month across the globe, there have been conversations about the roles brands have played in the celebration.
Activists, thought leaders and consumers are increasingly weighing what is authentic corporate support for the LGBTQ+ community vs. “rainbow-washing.” People are challenging brands to invest where there is need, including within the walls of their own organizations instead of spending dollars on campaigns that don’t make an authentic connection to the LGBTQ+ movement, and in turn, don’t deliver adequate business or social returns.
We sit at the intersection of LGBTQ+ serving nonprofit organizations and brands seeking to positively impact the LGBTQ+ community. From this position, we find ourselves re-evaluating and critically questioning how change-makers can harness the resources, reach and cultural relevancy of brands to accelerate change.
Sitting where we do, we have had many conversations about various constants and variables that companies can and should consider when finding their place in a movement, while doing what they can to keep it moving forward.
The Impact of Place
Are all rainbow displays created equal?
Geographic location heavily determines the legal protections and societal treatment of LGBTQ+ citizens. During World Pride in New York City, the city was covered in rainbows and other visual displays of solidarity from brands for the entire month. We found ourselves wondering if these same brands were being as bold with their support in historically less-accepting communities.
Could a campaign being deployed by a brand in NYC that is viewed as surface-level or even rainbow-washing, in fact be a powerful form of visual activism in another geographic location?
How do we get brands to expand their support for Pride and the LGBTQ+ community beyond the obvious markets and create breakthrough campaigns in communities where social change needs to be accelerated?
The Generational Difference
How do the lived experiences of different generations within the LGBTQ+ community influence perception of brand activations during World Pride?
During World Pride, one of my Gen-X friends who identifies as a gay woman said, “Isn’t it wonderful seeing how so many brands are publicly supporting our community? I remember not that long ago when that was the rare exception.” She grew up and come out in a world that was less than welcoming, so to her the large number of brands activating during World Pride felt like a wave of positive momentum and support for the LGBTQ+ community.
If you asked an LGBTQ+ person of a younger generation you might get a completely opposing sentiment to that shared by my friend.
What does that mean for brands wanting to show support for all members of the LGBTQ community?
How can brands avoid deepening the generational rift with their campaigns?
While these are complex questions, Airbnb is a great example of how brands can play the role of convener and unifier through its launch of the “We Belong Together” campaign. This campaign aims to celebrate diversity and bridge generational divides within the LGBTQ+ community. As part of this effort, Airbnb released “Connecting 50 Years of Pride,” a short film that brings LGBTQ+ veterans of the Stonewall Uprising together with millennials about their experiences in the LGBTQ+ community.
This campaign served to bridge the generational divide, and Airbnb intentionally sparked conversations that touched on differences in the LGBTQ+ experience based on other factors, such as race and gender identity.
Targeting Hearts and Minds that Need to Change
How should multi-generational reach and influence be factored into the impact measurement of brand campaigns?
Brands with broad reach and cross-generational appeal ran highly visible campaigns during World Pride. For example, Macy’s Pride + Joy campaign supported the Trevor Project – spreading awareness of Trevor’s life-saving work and affirming messages of support for LGBTQ youth to Macy’s communities everywhere.
It cannot go unconsidered that Macy’s reaches parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and coaches, the very adults that LGBTQ+ youth are confiding in when they come out. With many adults still locking LGBTQ+ kids out of their hearts and homes, LGBTQ+ youth represent 40% of the homeless youth population and studies indicate that as many as 60% are likely to attempt suicide (source, Trevor Project).
The kind of social change needed to shift these outcomes certainly cannot be accomplished by a single brand campaign alone. However, the type of cultural influence brands can wield over individual consumers and the consistent messaging they can deliver overtime can certainly have an impact on cultural attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community.
Democratising the Role of Storyteller and Story Curator
How can brands amplify the voices of LGBTQ+ individuals whose stories are untold?
The history of oppression of the LGBTQ+ community stems in part from a fear of the unknown. Human stories are a powerful tool for bridging that awareness gap. Brands have a large microphone to rapidly amplify and heighten the impact of stories through their mass market reach and cultural relevance. Therefore, which stories brands choose to tell matters. It directly impacts WHO brands can help create social change for in the short and long-term.
With the LGBTQ+ community there has been a discrepancy in who gets represented and therefore progress for certain groups – like TGNC individuals – is lagging significantly behind. Even well intentioned, thoughtful brands are being exclusionary in their campaigns aimed at LGBTQ+ inclusion.
Google offered a bright spot with their Stonewall Forever, A Living Monument to 50 Years of Pride augmented reality initiative. There were a few tactics that Google deployed that other brands can replicate to become more inclusive with the stories they elevate and ultimately the change they create:
- Telling the untold stories of LGBTQ+ history: Many of the heroes of the Stonewall Uprising represent some of the most marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community today; by surfacing these stories from the past, Google helped broaden present day awareness, understanding, and respect for individuals who are too often left out of the conversation.
- Partnerships that lend credibility, expertise, and authenticity: Google worked with the National Park Foundation and the LGBT Center to bring this to life in a way that accurately and inclusively told the history of Stonewall.
- Crowdsourcing stories: Google put an open call out to the community asking for their stories and historical items in an online video.
How can we broaden the understanding by brands and consumers of the different ways corporations can meaningfully impact the LGBTQ+ rights movement?
Where is there white space where brands can drive needed social change, while at the same time differentiating their brand from the rainbow-washing competition?
By raising these key questions coming out of World Pride, we hope to start a conversation about how we can evolve the criteria through which we evaluate corporate action for the LGBTQ+ community.
If you are looking for a partner or advocate to explore or answer these questions for your organization, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.