Whack a Rainbow on It, the LGBTQ+ Community Will Love It!
Another Pride in London is over. And as we slowly de-rainbow the city, it gives us a chance to reflect on the last month of festivities. It’s no secret that Pride has become something of a trend for brands over the last few years. With the high street bathed in colour each June, you’d be forgiven for thinking the LGBTQ+ community had won the fight. That our oppression was over and our existence had become entirely normalised. But in fact, LGBTQ+ hate crimes are up 144% since 2013. So where are we going wrong?
Unfortunately, one of the biggest symbols of Pride has become one of its most misunderstood.
The Pride flag was originally designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978. It had eight stripes - the seven colours of the rainbow, plus pink at the top - and each colour was assigned a specific meaning. It was decided in 1979, following Harvey Milk’s assassination in 1978, that the flag would become the symbol of Pride. Demand was so high that they couldn't source enough pink material, and organisers of the San Francisco Pride parade wanted to have three colours on each side of the street, so turquoise had to go too. That’s how we ended up with the six stripe rainbow flag we know and love.
The rainbow flag continues to be a symbol of Pride today, but it stands for so much more than that. And to understand when it is or isn't appropriate to use, you need to understand what it means to the people it represents.
The flag is a symbol of safety in a world of uncertainty. To an LGBTQ+ person who may feel uncomfortable or even threatened in certain areas, the flag says "you're safe here".
It’s hugely important for brands to understand the weight of that statement. You can't use the flag we see as a symbol of safety and then not stand behind us while we’re continually persecuted. Just look at the way YouTube has refused to discipline Steve Crowder for his constant abuse of Vox’s Carlos Maza, calling him a 'lispy queer', a 'little queer' and a 'gay Mexican', as their logo proudly displays those six colours throughout the website.
You can’t just whack a rainbow on something and expect the queer community to be your brand’s new BFF. A lesson M&S learned this year when they released the LGBT sandwich (that’s Lettuce, Guac, Bacon and Tomato... obviously). Sure, they gave a few quid to charity, but it certainly wasn’t the focus, as they equated whole communities of people with lunch fillings. Mum, dad, if you’re reading this, I’m guac.
The key is to authentically support the LGBTQ+ community without patronising or virtue signalling.
Cast your mind back to any major disaster during the last 10 years. At some point, you probably ended up changing your Facebook profile picture to a country’s flag, while doing absolutely nothing to actually help the cause. That’s virtue signalling. It's showing other people how accepting and empathetic you are, just to look good. And while LGBTQ+ hate crime increases, the last thing we need is for everyone to think we’re ok.
Give something back, do it not-for-profit, don't use our struggle to sell your crap. Or sell your crap but give a portion of the proceeds to LGBTQ+ charities. And when you do, have the charity message up front. Understand the cause. Understand the prejudice experienced by every queer person on this planet before you churn out thousands of multicoloured cupcakes. Understand your place in this before you even begin.
Respects the history of the flag. Check. Educates new audiences about the flag’s importance within the LGTBQ+ community (no virtue signalling here). Check. Gives back to the community to directly combat the issues we face. Million dollar check. Looks fierce. Not necessary, but it’s a fab bonus. Great work Nike, snaps for you.
Finally, and I can’t stress this enough. If you’re not sure, ask an LGBTQ+ person.
Bring on Pride 2020!
James Bougourd is a junior creative at ELVIS