Reflections on Pride and Ethics of Business Engagement Month.
Growing up in New York City meant pride was an expected celebration in June. I remember taking my six-year-old sister to the playground, eyes level with all kinds of skirts and tutus as New Yorkers filled the streets to celebrate. Parade floats, cheers, and seemingly bars and restaurants pouring people into the streets – all of these sites characterize the weekend surrounding the Pride Month celebration. The Pride March began in New York City in 1970, the year after the Stonewall riots. The June 1969 riots were a series of spontaneous protests by members of the gay community in response to raids and arrests that threatened queer spaces.
Nowadays, pride is celebrated by businesses and institutions, seeming to signal broader societal change. The United States appears to have made great strides in inclusion for members of the LGBTQ + community over the past fifty years. The legalization of same-sex marriage, the growing awareness of non-heterosexual relationships, and the growing awareness of pronouns all seem to indicate that there is an acceptance of LGBTQ + people in most circles, especially in liberal spaces.
As Dartmouth rolls out a rainbow banner on the Collis Patio, the logos of familiar companies – AT&T, Mercedes-Benz, NestlÃ© – turn rainbow in unison when the calendar marks June 1. in our cultural imagination – and their influence on our culture does not end with pride.
The Capital One bank I frequent has been redecorated as a rainbow to honor the pride, so my trip to the ATM is much more colorful in June. The radical difference between the generation of companies we see today and those of the last century is their ability to penetrate the folds of our socio-cultural lives. Rather than being faceless entities, they are in our Facebook comments and Twitter responses, creating their own visions to celebrate the difference. Even our legal structure designates companies as people, which can contribute to the idea that companies have political figures and opinions. While the premise of corporate support for pride is potentially liberating, there are hidden assumptions that flatten the meaning of pride. The consumers that businesses tend to target during Pride are urban white, middle-to-upper-class consumers with sufficient purchasing power to afford what the businesses are selling.
That companies are so quick to commoditize the lives of those celebrating Pride Month is interesting given the relative lack of support for the LGBTQ + community outside of the rainbow-themed setting. . In recent years, the sponsors of the Pride Parades have been Fire for using their sponsorship as a statement of their support for the LGBTQ + community without putting their money where they say it. For example, pharmaceutical giant Gilead makes a preventative drug that reduces the risk of contracting HIV; Yet, the people who the drug would help best often cannot afford it, even with help. So when Gilead sponsors a Pride float, many LGBTQ + people who can’t afford the drug raise an eyebrow. Less insidiously, displays of corporate pride often miss the mark. Think back to Chipotle uncomfortable attempt at Pride in 2015 – in which they tweeted a photo of a rainbow burrito with the caption âÂ¿hÃ³mo estÃ¡s? “
This year, furniture retailer IKEA launched a line of Pride sofas in different styles inspired by different sexualities. Twitter was on fire with mixed reactions. Some people commented on their favorite designs, while others criticized the campaign. What’s fascinating about the countryside is that the sofas themselves aren’t even sold. Instead, IKEA markets the stories designers who designed each sofa, designers whose gender identity or sexual orientation matches that of the sofa. The couch campaign appears to be loosely aimed at raising awareness of the experience of pride through non-normative forms of gender expression or sexual orientation. The company’s general support for Pride follows this pattern: not actually changing any of the company’s usual operations or business model, but showcasing their Prideful side as an appeal to consumers. The reputation and virtue of the company itself is what is sold in this package.
While it may seem benign for businesses to have empty signals, the message around pride is particularly obnoxious in that it is incorporated to capitalize on the purchasing power of gay people without changing the material conditions of their life. When Pride simply becomes Uber turning its routes into a rainbow or the color-changing pride hashtag symbol on Twitter, the radical origins of the celebrations are lost. Remember that the first pride celebrations were born out of a riot over police raids and homophobic violence at the end of the 20th century.
Pride isn’t buying t-shirts, stickers, or even the originals of amazing designers from the IKEA website. Pride has never been about buying and selling, as the buying and selling of identities is an imposition of capitalism’s relentless race towards monetization. Our social lives can exist outside of material possessions, and while clothing is an important way of expressing ourselves, the idea that our clothes speak for us – and should constantly signal our identity – keeps us financially invested in the last. trends and fast fashion.
Pride is not about signaling an alliance or commitment by purchasing sweatshop-made t-shirt items. Pride isn’t about rainbow app logos or redecorating big bank lobby art. The idea that pride is about reporting and selling circumvents the dark history of homophobic oppression. As soon as pride becomes business, the radical potential of celebrating pride is lost.