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How to Avoid “Rainbow-Washing” during Pride Month

June is Pride month, which means it’s a great time for your organization to live its values and support the LGBTQ+ community. However, it’s important to make sure your efforts aren’t “rainbow-washing.” Here’s our guide on how to be a true ally this Pride month, and beyond.

/ 6 mins / SparxTeam

June is Pride month, which celebrates members of the LGBTQIA+ community, supports their rights, and honours their resilient past. Pride month is more than just a rainbow-coloured party; it began with protests like the Stonewall Riots in the US, and the Operation Soap riot in Canada. 

Whether or not your organization employs members of the LGBTQIA+ community or has clients who identify as LGBTQIA+, you should consider participating in Pride month to show your support and solidarity. 

However, there is a right and a wrong way to do Pride. The phenomenon of brands embracing the rainbow during Pride but avoiding actionable or tangible support to the LGBTQIA+ community is known as “rainbow-washing.” 

Rainbow-washing can be considered as virtue-signalling, which often leaves a poor impression of a brand. As an organization who wants to live your values, it’s important to walk the talk. Here’s our guide on how to avoid rainbow-washing and be a true ally to the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Do Your Research 

The landscape of the LGBTQIA+ community is vast and complex. 

There are unique identities, intersections, and struggles within the LGBTQIA+ umbrella, which makes it important to do your research before your organization jumps into Pride promotion. 

Dive into the history and important figures of the gay liberation movement, issues that affect the LGBTQIA+ community, politically-correct terms to use, groups that fall under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella, and what the various Pride flags mean. 

Include LGBTQIA+ Folks in the Conversation

It’s important to involve people in the LGBTQIA+ community in your Pride month efforts to ensure you’re being truly authentic and supportive. Do you currently employ “out” members of the LGBTQIA+ community? See if they’d be interested to help with the ideation and decision-making process. If not, respect their wishes. When asking advice from your LGBTQIA+ staff that goes above and beyond their normal duties, they should be compensated for their time and work.

You can also hire a LGBTQIA+ consulting organization to help get your Pride and LGBTQIA+ allyship efforts right, including within your workplace. Some great resources include Qmunity, Pride at Work Canada, TransFocus, and The 519

Amplify LGBTQIA+ Voices 

As with other social causes, it’s a good idea to amplify voices within the community instead of trying to dominate the space. Not only does doing the latter potentially hurt the livelihood of LGBTQIA+ members by increasing the chance they’ll get drowned out in the noise, your audience may view it as disingenuous or performative. 

Plus, by elevating LGBTQIA+ people and their stories, you can align your company’s efforts, show you’re knowledgeable and active in the LGBTQIA+ community, and shine a light on issues that are important to your organization.  

Donate to LGBTQIA+ Causes 

If you have the resources, it’s a good idea to put your money where your mouth is. Expensive  healthcare (such as gender affirming surgery for trans folks), lack of mental health services, and homelessness are all issues that affect the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Luckily, there are organizations that deal directly with these issues (and more) that your company can donate to, And of course, you can show your audience that you’re supporting these organizations. While it’s important to find non-profits that resonate and align with your brand, some to check out are The 519, Rainbow Railroad, and Pflag.  

Post More Than a Rainbow Flag

By this point, you’ve probably taken the hint to not just “rainbow-ify” your organization’s profile photo logo or chuck a Pride flag on your Instagram feed and call it a day. Ensure you bring value and awareness to your social media posts. 

Hopefully, you have a wider Pride campaign that you can push through your social media channels (i.e. new partnership, product, or donation plans). Otherwise, why not post about the history of Pride month, important LGBTQIA+ figures, or your favourite LGBTQIA+ activists?

Make it a Year-Round Commitment

Pride may be just one month for your organization, but it’s a lifetime for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community. Consider making your efforts an always-on commitment. One way to ensure you incorporate inclusive content regularly is to work backwards from Pride the following year. If you were looking back over an entire year, what would you want to see in terms of LGBTQIA+ positive initiatives or content from your organization? Once you’ve determined that, you can schedule these efforts in your content planning strategy.

You can also ensure your organization is an inclusive workplace (there are even certificates for this), become an “equal opportunity employer” to attract new LGBTQIA+ hires, ask your current LGBTQIA+ employees how to better support them, evaluate your marketing efforts, and continue to donate and partner with LGBTQIA+ organizations. 

Important note: LGBTQIA+ conversations often centre white cis gay men, so it’s important to acknowledge diversity and intersections of privilege (i.e. gender, race, religion, ability, etc.) in your efforts. For example, showcase LGBTQIA+ persons of colour in a marketing ad.

Three Examples of Organizations Doing Pride Right

1. Kiehl’s

Kiehl’s is an American skincare retailer headquartered in New York. Not only have they sponsored NYC Pride since 2010, in 2020 they announced a partnership with LGBTQIA+ youth suicide prevention non-profit The Trevor Project with plans to “make a positive impact through funding, awareness and resources that can help change [LGBTQIA+ youth’s] lives for the better.”

2. IKEA Canada

Have you ever gone to IKEA and needed one of those giant blue shopping bags for all your candles, pillows, or Swedish meatballs? Well, the beloved furniture company made these shopping bags rainbow for 2019’s Pride month and donated all profits to Pflag, “Canada’s only national organization that offers peer-to-peer support striving to help all Canadians with issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.”

3. Lyft Toronto

While Pride has been affected by COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021, rideshare platform Lyft was an active participant in Pride Toronto in 2019, including being their official rideshare platform. They had a parade float, offered discount codes, and donated $1 to HIV/AIDS hospital Casey House for every ride taken during Pride Toronto using their code. What’s more, Lyft didn’t just show their “pride” during June, they also became the first rideshare app to let passengers choose from a wide range of pronouns, as launched with their #TwoIsTooFew campaign. 

What Sparx is Doing 

In addition to embracing the rainbow flag on our website and our social media profile pictures, this Pride month, we will be:

  • Rolling out pronoun transparency with the internal team, so Sparx employees can disclose their pronouns on all communication channels (this includes a discussion about the importance of disclosing pronouns),
  • Highlighting on our social media channels mission-aligned organizations in the LGBTQIA+ community that are working to make the world better,
  • Amplifying Pride by posting on our social media channels, including a post about the history and facts about the Pride flag,
  • And of course, posting this blog!

Get in Touch

At Sparx, our mission is to create content to make the world better.
If you need help securing your website, creating great content, building experiences to delight your customers, marketing your business, or you simply have questions, the experts at Sparx Publishing Group are always available to chat. You can reach us here.

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