Every June, people around the world come together to celebrate Pride Month, a time dedicated to recognizing and honoring the LGBTQIA+ community. It is a momentous occasion that commemorates the Stonewall riots, which took place in New York City in June 1969 and served as a catalyst for the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. As small businesses embrace the spirit of Pride Month, it's important to approach marketing with authenticity, respect, and a commitment to being an ally beyond the month of June.
Businesses of any kind and size can (and should) get involved to raise awareness and give back for Pride Month regardless of their budget or reach. To kick off our Pride Month this year, let’s explore how small businesses can do right by the LGBTQ+ community and make a difference in the process.
Although Pride is most definitely a celebration, a successful Pride campaign should have education and awareness at its heart. Not only is Pride a time to recognize the progress that’s been made since the Stonewall Riots, but it’s just as important to acknowledge how far we still need to go as a society. LGBTQ+ individuals are still nearly four times more likely than non-LGBTQ+ individuals to experience violent victimization, including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or simple assault, according to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.
Don't assume you know everything about the LGBTQ+ community. Avoid stereotypes, assumptions, or tokenistic gestures that can be perceived as insincere.
Take the time to understand the history and significance of Pride Month, as well as the ongoing challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community. This will help you develop a more empathetic and informed approach to your marketing efforts.
"Stonewall represented, absolutely, the first time that the LGBT community successfully fought back and forged an organized movement and community." - Mark Segal
One of the most important things to remember when attempting to promote Pride successfully is the fact the LGBTQ+ community is an extremely diverse group.
This rich community encapsulates both men and women, as well as those who identify as neither. It covers all age groups, all races and ethnicities, all income segments, and all political leanings. Thus, it’s important to look beyond gender or sexuality alone to avoid stereotyping this group.
Craft your marketing messages with sincerity and authenticity. Show genuine support and inclusivity by representing diverse LGBTQ+ voices and stories in your campaigns. Involve members of the LGBTQ+ community in your planning and decision-making processes to ensure your approach is respectful and representative.
Authentic allyship is demonstrated through actions that genuinely support and uplift the LGBTQ+ community. Here is one example of a company that has been recognized for their authentic allyship:
Ben & Jerry's, the ice cream company, has long been an advocate for social justice causes, including LGBTQ+ rights. They have actively supported marriage equality and have consistently used their platform to speak out against discrimination. They even renamed one of their popular flavors to "Apple-y Ever After" in 2012 to celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage in the UK.
It should be obvious that businesses should avoid exploiting the LGBTQ+ community or treat it as a mere marketing opportunity during Pride Month. In recent years, there has been a rise in the use of buzzwords like “rainbow washing” and “rainbow capitalism,” which refer to the behaviors of businesses that profit from the symbolic support of the LGBTQ+ community without actions that actually benefit the movement. Avoid using LGBTQ+ symbols or slogans purely for profit or to gain attention without actively supporting LGBTQ+ rights and equality.
Listen and Learn
Engage in meaningful conversations with your LGBTQ+ clients, employees, and community. Ask for their input and feedback on your marketing strategies. Actively listen to their experiences, challenges, and needs. Attend events that help you learn and grow alongside LGBTQ+ people. Use these insights to create a more inclusive and supportive environment within your business.
A fundamental aspect of allyship is amplifying LGBTQ+ voices, and social media provides a powerful platform to achieve this. To truly understand and speak authentically about LGBTQ+ issues, it is crucial to listen to and learn from queer individuals. Take the initiative to curate your social media feed to ensure it includes the diverse range of thoughts, experiences, and concerns shared by LGBTQ+ people.
Explore - and share - these hashtags to listen to LGBTQ+ voices and join in on conversations:
(Don't forget to use CamelCase in your hashtags so that people with visual impairments can successfully use their screenreaders to understand the hashtags)
Don't speak over or ignore the voices of LGBTQ+ individuals. Avoid making assumptions about their experiences or imposing your own perspective. Remember that allyship is about amplifying marginalized voices, not focusing on yourself or your business.
Support LGBTQ+ Causes
Rather than treating Pride Month like a marketing campaign, put your efforts toward an activity that will positively impact the LGBTQ+ community. While monetary donations can be helpful, volunteering at community events or spending time with LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations may be more impactful and attainable for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Consider partnering with local LGBTQ+ organizations, charities, or events to provide tangible support.
Think about hosting or taking part in LGBTQ+ events, or donating to local charities doing work in your community to support LGBTQ+ initiatives.
Engage in performative support by merely adding a rainbow flag to your logo or changing your social media profile picture during Pride Month. Instead, back your symbolic gestures with genuine actions that benefit the LGBTQ+ community.
Engage in Allyship for All 12 Months
Seize the chance to reflect on supporting the LGBTQ+ community year-round by engaging your staff during Pride.
Avoid limiting your allyship to a single month, which gives the appearance of a token gesture.
Remember that being an authentic ally is not limited to Pride Month. Embrace inclusivity and diversity in your workplace culture, policies, and hiring practices throughout the year. Advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, support LGBTQ+-owned businesses, and consistently amplify LGBTQ+ voices in your marketing efforts. If you are a new small business, or new to marketing, start with introducing your support in June, then periodically follow up on how these value statements have been transformed into action throughout the year to show your ongoing progress and commitment.
Transform the momentum you build talking about Pride Month into a renewed commitment to using your platform to promote inclusivity and equality for all 12 months of the year.
Wondering where to start? Here are a few ways you can demonstrate authentic allyship throughout the year:
Include inclusive photography and graphics throughout your website, social media channels, and marketing campaigns.
Actively hire diverse candidates throughout your organization, and intentionally create diverse hiring committees to do so.
Donate to LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations throughout the year.
Create internal policies that protect and support LGBTQ+ employees.
In 2022, The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), one of the largest LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations, celebrated 20 years of creating better working conditions for the LGBTQ+ community through the use of the annual Corporate Equality Index (CEI).
Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s CEI is the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies, practices, and benefits pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer employees. If your small business is not using this important tool, make plans to use the CEI to calculate your organization’s score and use it as a starting point. This will give you a clear picture of what you’re doing well, and what you could be doing better.
As small businesses partake in Pride Month marketing, it is essential to approach it with authenticity and respect. By educating ourselves, listening, supporting LGBTQ+ causes, and practicing year-round allyship, we can foster an inclusive environment that extends beyond Pride Month. Let's celebrate Pride Month not just as a marketing opportunity, but as a reminder of the ongoing fight for equality and acceptance for all members of the LGBTQ+ community.