Pride isn't happening this year, due to the pandemic, and the removal of this convenient opportunity for brands to show their appreciation for LGBT customers has thrown the sincerity of such gestures into question. Coupled with the fact the current protests over racially-motivated police brutality in the US intersect with LGBT concerns, and many within the community are questioning the motives behind mainstream 'rainbow month' campaigns more than ever before.
Obvious sidesteps, such as police forces and transport companies hastily rebranding their already paid-for rainbow vehicles as 'thank you NHS' gestures, are expected. A glance at social media will tell you that the gay community is disappointed by these things, but not surprised. Many of us are quietly furious about the rebranding of the rainbow as something for heterosexual people to use for performative posturing after decades of activism made it an acceptable symbol for LGBT people to use in public, but every flag vendor who has changed their Google key words to 'NHS' rather than 'Pride' is another drop in the bucket of the erasure that has happened across the UK for a long time.
Trans people in particular are vilified in the press daily, both tabloid and supposedly high-brow, and many of us have become numb to being treated like lepers or sex offenders simply for existing. Those who remember reporting around the gay community in the 80s will find such rhetoric uncomfortably familiar. Few people outside the LGBT community question why, in the middle of a pandemic, there are articles on the front page of major news sites questioning the legitimacy of treating trans youth as humans with agency. And yet, these microaggressions are becoming macro very fast. Advertising has a huge role to play in what happens next.
It is absolutely vital that brands who care - who really care - don't replace their Pride campaigns with empty calls for medals for front line workers who would much rather be adequately paid than receive plaudits. LGBT rights aren't a sexy cause, right now. Last year was bedecked in rainbows and slogans about love, but this year the mainstays of drag, clubbing, and parades can't feature in feel-good films to remind straight people of their tolerance. This year isn't an opportunity for brands to pat themselves on the back about featuring a gay couple or using drag queens as a shorthand for diversity. This year will show us which brands truly give a shit.
Ben and Jerry's, Absolut, Smirnoff - there are brands with a long history of supporting LGBT and other minority causes who do this stuff right. They consult members of the community they're trying to depict and communicate with, they consider how their message could be received as opposed to just thinking about their intention, and they follow up their campaigns with active support of persecuted minorities.
Brands need to be prepared to say sorry. Pepsi and Kendall Jenner learned it the hard way, as have many others: if you fuck up, you need to apologise and mean it when you say you'll do better. Otherwise, all you're left with is an empty protest and a can of flat soda.
Make no mistake, the gay community can tell when an ad was conceived, written, and produced by collections of straight white men. Genuine good intentions may, on occasion, outweigh the immediate scepticism this inspires, but if your creative department is full of cis-het white men then you're simply not trying hard enough. DAVID's Sisterhood directory is one place to start, but there are many other resources which showcase talented women, ethnic and gender minority creatives who can provide you an authentic perspective on this and all your other campaigns.
So please, during this time of extreme turmoil in so many different ways, consider how activism features in your company and your campaigns. Are your non-white colleagues consistently treated as fully equal? Do your female colleagues get passed 'soft' campaigns or 'womens' issue' ones you feel uncomfortable with? Are your LGBT colleagues - the ones who aren't cis white men, in particular - able to express a genuine opinion about their work?
Also consider who you are, when you ask yourself these questions. Would a black colleague feel comfortable approaching an all-white team about a racial issue? Would a trans colleague be able to speak up without being thought oversensitive? Would you receive a complaint from a female colleague with an open mind, or would you think she was being difficult? Think about your workplace and think about your company culture and, if you care, keep thinking about it in order to make it a more welcoming and productive place for everyone.
And please, as we reach the time when Pride campaigns are usually flooding the airwaves with glitter and good vibes, consider how brands' silence will be received by those who are beyond the cis-het white boundaries under which so much of advertising still operates. We will remember, as will our allies, and it will impact how brands are received in the months and years to come. And as a community very used to being abnormal, be assured that we have a long memory.
Stay safe, and thank you for listening.