We Asked Young Queer People About Big Company Branding During Pride Month

“Why is there a rainbow everywhere? Not every queer wants to be a rainbow. It’s fucking annoying”.

It’s pride month. That time of year when we celebrate the quintessential greatness of the Queer and LGBTQ community. And not one to be left out of the opportunistic moments of our “great” capitalist system, the corporations want a slice of the pie too.

On June 1st, the rainbow flag comes a-flyin’, brands turn their logo every which colour, and interesting company slogans come to the forefront. A flurry of activity erupts around media companies as diverse models and spokespeople come to the stand. It’s a positive, right? A good step towards affirmative action? But in the complex world we live in, just how good is it?

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This year has seen its fair share of memes moving across social media, making fun of the often bizarre and ironic partnering schemes of big brands during pride month. The curtain is slowly lifting.

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.
An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

So VICE thought it would ask some friends from the Queer and LGBTQ community about their feelings towards the marketing and branding of this year’s pride.

Joss (she/her) , 23-years-old

VICE: So what are your initial thoughts?

I think my initial thoughts were extremely jaded. There’d be campaigns and rainbow flags everywhere. I’d be like, “Fuck off,” this is the easiest get, or it feels like brands do it because they feel like they have to, or they feel like they’ll be chastised for not doing it as opposed to actually wanting to do it. Now when I see it it’s fucking hysterical. All the twitter memes at the moment being like “Before I came out I was really lost that’s why I’ve partnered with Google Maps this pride”. The hyper-branding of everything is extremely funny.

So you’re still jaded? Or are there some positives?

Well, I think it is a catch-22, regardless of how lip servicey it is, it’s still inherently pro-queerness. If you just look at it on the surface, it’s still a huge company putting their name towards pro queerness which is lit, but if you scratch the surface it’s like: what is your intention? Are you doing this purely because you feel like you need to do this? Do you actually have measures in place in your workplace to make queer people feel save? Are you making sure that your policy is pro-queer or are you just sitcking a rainbow on the front of your company? I can’t tell you if it’s good or bad.

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Do you think that if companies didn’t do it during pride month they’d be excommunicated?

Potentially, but also I think it’s such a pisstake at this stage. You’re wrong if you do it and you're wrong if you dont. The only way I’d appreciate that would be genuine diverse representation throughout the year.

Laura (she/her), 29-years-old

VICE: Initial thoughts?

I know that quite often it is pinkwashing and it’s not backed up by actual change within the company but I quite like it. I quite like to see it. It’s at least something that wouldn’t have happened at one point and now, it’s just a little bit more socially acceptable. Even if the company hasn’t done a lot of internal work I think it’s an improvement to see it more widespread in the media.

So mostly positive?

Well, I think a lot of the time it is a bit performative. For sure. You see with clothing brands it’s definitely a way to appeal to a broader audience but it’s still better than doubling down and not doing anything at all. I think it’s the first step, if you're doing it performatively as a company. At least it’s one step towards perhaps, hopefully, doing it non-performatively.

Have you seen any examples of company branding this Pride?

The BWYaaaaas in Newtown, or there’s special pride bottles of wine. I guess, in a way, it’s a strategy to sell more things, but I’d rather it to be out there. It’s not great that it is performative but if the alternative is that companies aren’t willing to change at all and then they also don’t do anything publicly then it would be worse. I suppose the fact that it is only a month, though, can be pretty transparent. I’d rather see it all year round

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When I was younger I used to like it and didn’t realise that it was performative at all, but now maybe it doesn’t reflect the true ethos of a company. 

Genevevie (she/they) , 25-years-old

VICE: Pretty broad first question but what are your initial thoughts when you think about company branding during pride month?

I guess corporate representation in pride is probably most important for kids, for people caught in the closet or just coming out, and also kind of nice to shove it in the face of transphobes and homophobes. But outside of that, it makes me feel semi-ostracised/emotionally naked in cis-hetero society. I’m just not sure if pride fully aligns with the queer liberation and history and protest that it was meant to uphold.

My liberation comes from the bathroom stalls of a club at 4:00am where it’s safe and thriving alongside a plethora of queers. So, if you think of Marsha P. Johnson and the ‘69 Stonewall uprising, do you really think these women would be down for a capitalist takeover that sells rainbow coloured mayonnaise, and does absolutely nothing for the people it claims to protect?

So how do you react to the branding? Mostly positive, mostly negative?

If you’re capitalising off a community of people who have and continue to be historically incarcerated, murdered, ostracised - erased - since colonisation, while further appropriating their (stunning) culture for leverege for your campaign, what else are you doing except pocketing colossal amounts off the backs of people’s reclamation and violent history? 

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Unbridled LGBTQIA+ visibility without grassroots support isn’t safe. So, while a rare few represent us properly, the majority of these pride campaigns aren’t safe.

What’s the progress in having a few GAYTM’s when a “religious freedom” bill is on the backburner of parliament waiting to dismantle and erase trans kids in the classroom? Where the fuck are the corporations then?! If there’s no profit involved they go missing - and then we go back to becoming a problem again.

Do you think there is an ethical way for big brands to support the queer community?

If you want to tell (make money off) a story or message about any marginalised person or community, have a solid and generous plan for redistributing the wealth gained from that campaign, at the minimum. Have a plan for donating to grassroots organisations that are saving queer lives in the background, that are protecting trans kids in the class room from discriminatory bills on the backburner of parliament, that are on the streets protesting against the cops *cough* whom these corporations support.

If it’s a marketing campaign, outsource freelance creatives to write, tell, and control the storyline, and pay them properly. Put the premise and campaign in the hands of queers from the beginning, and did I say pay them properly?

 

Astrid (she/ they), 23-years-old

VICE: Broad question, but what are your initial thoughts when it comes to pride and marketing?

In pride month I feel like companies purposely cast queer people, which is great, but they only cast queer people in pride month. And it’s like affirmative action - but it’s a bit performative. They’re doing it not because they’re actually inclusive.

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You’re a model, right? Do you think that influences your perspective

Yeah, I’m coming from a model perspective. I haven’t seen this pride month, but when it’s been Mardi Gras and those campaigns, I’ve seen a lot of queer people being cast. But outside of pride month it is very heteronormative and as soon as pride month is over, it’s completely back to normal again.

What’s a better way brands could be inclusive, whether in pride month or outside?

Brands could be more inclusive all year round instead of presenting queer people in pride month for pride campaigns - because I’ve noticed that a lot of queer people that are being casted, they aren’t cast any other time of the year. 

Have you found, as a model, that it’s easier to get jobs during pride month?

Yeah, 100%. I feel like I get more jobs during pride month and during pride campaigns than any other time of the year. I will always get cast for a pride campaign during pride month but when it comes to any other time of the year, I don’t get as much castings cause they’re not looking for non-binary models or queer models.

It’s very heteronormative, but as soon as pride month comes around it’s like “We want non-binary people, we want inclusivity” but then any other time of the year it’s just nothing.

And why is there a rainbow everywhere? Not every queer wants to be a rainbow. It’s fucking annoying.

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Dirk (he/they), 28-years-old

VICE: What do you think about branding during pride month?

So, when I see public displays of affection for pride from corporations I feel like it indicates a moment in time where the pink dollar is really valuable. You have things like Mardi Gras and other things that are increased optics around queerness and the queer community, but it feels very new. 

At the same time, this is the biggest display of that uplifting thing of queerness and LGBT culture in the mainstream. With each year passing it’s discussed more and covered more, so I’m not really sure how I feel about it. But seeing it as an increased presence is interesting because it brings lots of different responses.

Do you think it’s mainly a positive or negative thing?

I think from my own perspective it is a positive thing because it becomes more normalised within society, but at the same time I think there is a certain complacency that appears from communities when they start to accept branding deals and money from corporations to purchase their uniqueness, or sexuality or gender expression.

Putting a price tag on that sort of stuff is a real dissonance against what that is, and so it’s really interesting to see people grapple with that sort of authenticity because being given money to do that kind of thing isn’t necessarily inauthentic. But I think to some, it does feel that way.

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Do you think there’s any performance involved with brands?

Yeah, 100%. I mean it’s the same way that people try and get your attention when it’s Christmas or Valentine's Day or Easter. it's just another holiday for people to vie for your attention and get your clicks, and I think the growing zeitgeist of pride and youthfulness and sexuality and gender diversity… it’s what’s interesting and hot to companies right now. Especially in pop culture, it’s as on brand as you can get.

When you think about marketing during pride, is there an ethical way for brands or corporations to do so?

Absolutely. I think when it comes down to it, besides getting a passive investment in any sort of queer or LGBTQ identity, these corporations should be setting up different employer statistics, making sure they’re hiring more diverse people, whether it’s their sexual or gender identity, and increasing pathways for those sorts of people whether it’s in lending programmes for homes, bank loans, things to accommodate for more intersectional ideals of how people experience the world. 

I think that would be the most effective way of addressing these situations, as opposed to just saying “Oh, we’ve just dropped this rainbow ANZ card and you get $50 from your first Mardi Gras ticket that you buy.” That stuff doesn’t really mean anything. Until then they’re not really doing anything, it’s just lip service really.

Follow Julie Fenwick on Twitter and Instagram.

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Tagged:

Australia, queer, We ask young people, Mardi Gras, CAPITALISM

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