Happy Pride Month.
June is always a fun time to be LGBT. For just a few short weeks, the whole world gets a lot more queer. Pride events pop up everywhere, colorful parades march down city streets, social media is awash with rainbows, and tens of thousands of people boldly declare that they’re not ashamed to be who they are and love who they love. It’s all so wonderful. In the past few years, it’s become more and more commonplace for businesses to get in on the pride action. Special rainbow packaging appears in stores for various brands, LGBT take center stage in advertisements, and colorful decorations welcome people into local shops. It all comes together to create a world that, just for a few weeks, seems to be fully accepting of LGBT people.
Just don’t read the comments…
If you read the comments on any of these corporate displays of pride on social media, you’ll see the same statements pop up with alarming regularity: “Boycott such-n’-such!”; “Can’t you all just flip burgers/sell clothes/whatever without being so political?!”; “This is just a marketing ploy to get attention” ; and my personal favorite… “stop pandering to the LGBT people!”. That’s all stuff you kind of expect, right? I mean, we sadly still live in world full of homophobia and transphobia (fun fact: as I was typing this out, my word processor took homophobia just fine but underlined transphobia to tell me it’s not a recognized word; we’ve still got a long way to go). What’s weird though is to see people who are supposedly either pro LGBT or even a part of the community themselves spouting off a different form of disgust. “My civil rights are not an opportunity for you to sell stuff”; “stop reducing our struggle to a marketing slogan”; etc.
Am I really seeing this? Are we just so used to being defensive that we react that way even when we’re winning? Of course they’re pandering to us right now…it’s freaking Pride Month! This is our spotlight time! No, that doesn’t mean we fade into the shadows the rest of the year, but months represent things to people and I for one like seeing businesses embracing that.
Do you consider this pandering or making light of Black History Month?
How about this? Is this pandering?
Now, I’m sure many of you are saying, “yes; both of those are examples of businesses doing terrible things!” I’ve heard that opinion before. I’ve also seen more than a few advertisements that used this gimmick and did so in very poor taste. Still, I don’t get as angry about the general concept as some people seem to. Yes, an advertisement is ultimately there to sell you something, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have another message as well. Why can’t an ad for a tennis racket also remind people who have breasts to get screened? Why can’t McDonald’s make me hungry for fries while also reminding me that February is a time to celebrate the history of the African American population?
Side bar: I do have a big exception to all of this and that’s organizations that claim to exist for the sole purpose of championing these causes but use most of their money to either pay CEO’s or sell merchandise with their logo on it. “Autism Speaks” and “The Susan G. Komen Foundation” are examples of this.
“But Faith,” I hear you saying, “can’t they just include gay and trans people in their commercials without having to make it seem so special? Isn’t the whole point to show this is all normal?” I mean, they can; some even do. Secret Deodorant had one of there “stress test” commercials about a transgender woman being afraid to use the bathroom. Dove’s “Real Moms” campaign included a transgender mother. JCPenny ran ads featuring a two-mom family on Mother’s Day and a two-dad family on Father’s Day. Now, this is far from saying we have plenty of representation out there already, because we clearly don’t. Still, itt is happening and it’s growing. But why is it okay now to be all in-your-face with the LGBT stuff in ads?
Well, as I said earlier, because it’s freaking Pride Month!
What is Pride if not a bold declaration of ones assurance in themselves? I don’t ever remember seeing a Pride Parade where LGBT people in plain clothes just quietly walked down the sidewalk along with everyone else, blending in and causing no stir. No, we shut down entire streets for that. We wave flags and cover ourselves in glitter. It’s a beautiful thing, and I love seeing businesses getting involved with it. Are we really going to proudly march passed the McDonald’s on the corner, waving our rainbow flags, but be offended that they waved one back? How does that make sense?
And remember, LGBT acceptance still has a long way to go. I’ve seen people get mad and call Black History Month or Breast Cancer Awareness Month advertisements in bad taste, but I’ve never seen them then go on to defend racism (mostly) or somehow want people to get cancer. Some still call gay people sick; they still call trans people freaks; they still use God as a cudgel to try and beat their narrow worldview into others. And businesses do see backlash from that. Target saw boycotts for their stance on transgender bathroom use and their section of Pride merchandise. Anytime a business even casually mentions that they support LGBT people, a swarm of bigots descend upon them calling for boycotts and resignations. The sad truth of the matter is we’re still in an age where publicly declaring your support for LGBT people is risky, and I for one am thankful for the ones willing to risk that. From a pure, money-making standpoint, that’s a bad strategy, so it has to at least somewhat come from a place of genuine love and support instead of calculated business gain.
But there’s another aspect of this, too, and it’s one I think transgender people understand more than anyone else. Take a look at this Burger King ad.
Is that silly and pandering the the LGBT community: you bet! But when you’re transgender, it tells you a lot more than just “we support LGBT people”. This lets me know that, if I want to go to Burger King, there’s a better chance my gender identity will be respected, that transgender sensitivity has been included in their employee training, that if I need to pee during my meal I’m not going to have an issue using the restroom. At the very least it tells me that if I go to Burger King and do have an issue with the staff there, their corporate office will side with me. It’s not a guarantee of safety by any means, but it’s at least a little reassuring. If you’re not LGBT, this kind of stuff seems trivial. Being afraid to go somewhere; afraid that you might be discriminated against for what you’re wearing; who you with, or what areas you want access to isn’t something that crosses the mind of those with certain privileges. It may just be a rainbow colored burger wrapper to you, but it can convey a deeper, more personal message to others.
So no, I’m not upset to see rainbow colored everything in ad campaigns during June. I think its beautiful. You can call it pandering, but our culture has been pandering to male, white, cisgender, straight, and Christian populations for so long and so overwhelmingly that we’ve come to consider these aspects some kind of default or normal state. In a time where even casually including gay or trans people in your marketing is considered edgy, why not just go all out? After all, those corporations likely have a lot of LGBT people working for them who would be damn honored to see their company so boldly declare their support. LGBT people make up parts of these businesses, so let them show the world that.
Please stop getting too worked up about pride imagery in advertisements. If something is truly in bad taste, call it out, but let a celebration be a celebration. Let’s enjoy our month where everything is coming up rainbows and glitter rains down from the heavens. Let’s enjoy Pride Month and take solace in the fact we live in a time where there are so many companies willing to celebrate with us.