June is an exceptional month on multiple fronts. It is host to a global celebration of the LGBTQ+ community and the continued progress it experiences year over year (i.e., Pride) and it offers nonprofits serving the LGBTQ+ community an incredible opportunity to increase visibility and raise critical funds needed to fulfill their missions.
But as Pride month becomes a beacon for companies looking to sell their wares and tap into the “gay dollar,” the concept of rainbow-washing has become a point of concern for the LGBTQ+ community. I get it. As the executive director of a nonprofit that derives significant support from corporate partners, I have seen the good, bad and ugly sides of these necessary relationships. Yet, despite the polarizing effect corporations can have on consumer attitudes, I am still very much in support of their contributions to the LGBTQ+ community.
For companies wanting to support the LGBTQ+ community, you are most welcomed. We need your partnership—truly! But, please consider some advice before jumping into the mix:
- Adding a rainbow product to your inventory doesn’t automatically guarantee access to the LGBTQ+ community. We’re smart consumers, and we take seriously the brands we allow into our homes. Go ahead and slap a rainbow on something, the visibility of our flag is important. It is a global symbol of hope for the LGBTQ+ community. But if it’s not attached to a community give-back, it could result in a backlash that will have your PR team scrambling to assemble a crisis response.
- Showing up during Pride month doesn’t mean the LGBTQ+ community will show up for you the other 11 months. You need to show up year-round. It doesn’t need to be big and splashy—we like things without rainbows, too. We want to know you’ve made an effort to understand who we are beyond our consuming habits. The LGBTQ+ community experiences great disparities compared to the general population in everything from healthcare to income, but we also have hopes and dreams for the future. Get to know us.
- If you don’t have any representation from the LGBTQ+ community on your marketing team—even if only a consultant or an employee from another department—you may want to reevaluate. If your company has a LGBTQ+ employee resource group, I strongly encourage a place for them at the table.
- If you don’t want your brand to look like it has an ulterior motive for jumping on the Pride bandwagon, don’t have one. Activate during Pride season to show support for the community and for the global fight for equal rights, and nothing more. This is an opportunity to give back — any attempt at a cash grab or fleeting visibility is transparent.
- Understand that nonprofits have a job to do. They are working hard to address complex issues impacting society. They have missions to fulfill, and those missions don’t typically include selling you or your product and/or service. We can absolutely support the promotion of our partnerships, but we shouldn’t be the only strategy in your marketing mix.
- Start planning now. If you’re wanting to plug into the 2020 Pride season and you haven’t started planning, you’re already late. The brands who get it are planning for Pride now, and they’re already identifying their nonprofit partners.
Pride is my favorite time of year, and I am proud of how its grown into a global assertion of the power and worthiness of my community. Corporate partnerships have a stake in that growth, and I support their continued presence in marches, festivals and in the places where I shop and socialize. I also support smart partnerships that don’t trivialize the importance of Pride simply to sell a product. Why go through the effort of designing a campaign only to have it fall flat or backfire? Take my advice or set it aside, the choice is yours. But, if you’re ready to stand behind the LGBTQ+ community in a meaningful way, let the It Gets Better Project be the first to welcome you.