How Can Companies Be Better LGBTQ2+ Allies Year-Round?

Being a corporate ally requires more than just branding during international days.

Why It Matters

Both within Canada and around the world, the corporatization of Pride has reached a fever pitch — a move that some say helps amplify awareness and others say detracts from the LGBTQ2+ community. We spoke to Ian Capstick, activist and founder of MediaStyle, about how companies can do better.

We started #FutureOfGood Twitter chats to dive deeper into hot topics that have been resonating with our community. It’s hosted Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. ET.

We recently spoke with Ian Capstick — founder of MediaStyle and LGBTQ2+ activist — about the commercialization of Pride, the branding of international days, and ways for corporations to be better allies year-round.

 

 

Pride has long been both celebration & protest for the LGBTQ2+ community. In the last few years, we’ve seen corporate brands get more involved in Pride than ever. What’s your take on their involvement?

Pride was protest and then it was a kind-of celebration. In the early 1980s, it was an in-your-face movement to be recognized and while it had a celebratory tone, we were also in mourning for people lost to HIV/AIDS, homophobia, and violent crimes. Many of the earliest Pride attendees were just celebrating being alive another year. Corporations didn’t really want to be a part of that.

Corporate involvement in Pride is super complicated, but one thing is certain… very few were there at the beginning and most should be more humble about that today.

 

What kind of impact does the commercialization or capitalization of Pride have on the ground for LGBTQ2+ organizations?

In the long run, it’s becoming easier and easier to brand your organization with a rainbow and hope like hell no one remembers or brings up its anti-gay past. The Liberal Party of Canada is a great example of this: if you look at their current campaign, you’d think they decriminalized homosexuality in 1969, but they didn’t. The Anti69ers campaign has been super active on this front. WeDemand was the first queer protest that happened in Canada, in 1973.

Queer folks are used to seeing people come along and take credit for things folks in the queer community fought for.  

 

As an entrepreneur and business owner yourself, how have you navigated the increasing corporatization of international days?

When June 21 was coming up, I was about to change over some of my businesses’ logos to the rainbow. It felt disingenuous. I realized: I’ve got no plan to celebrate any other community this way… why is mine so special? We’re a market segment. We’re a handy way to flag: “woke.”

I’m not sure I can be part of lifting all that up, when to be honest, I had no real plan to lift up others in the same way. I have some thinking to do. How can my social enterprises and investments help Black and Indigenous people of colour in a meaningful way? 

Why don’t we celebrate Black History Month & National Indigenous Peoples Day with the same logo-changing full on embrace of culture the way we do Pride month? And while we’re looking inward: other than Pride, what are we doing for the queer community?

Unless you’re making a real commitment to the queer community, just stop turning everything rainbow because you can or you think you should. It’s pandering if it’s a vague commitment to “human rights.” I think even queer folks are very guilty of this as well: just because you’re a gay business owner with a rainbow flag up for a couple weeks of the year doesn’t make you an ally to the community. 

 

How can companies or corporations be better allies during Pride Month (and all year long)?

“Love is love” is a platitude. I dare companies to make ads sexy or risqué (like they do for heteronormative Valentine’s Day). Fight for what matters. How many large corporate displays are demanding my right to give blood? Honour us, don’t just sell to us.

 

Can you give us some examples of Canadian companies that have been true LGBTQ2+ allies? What have they done differently?

One corporation was there back in the 1980s and 1990s: MAC Cosmetics. When they sold to Esteé Lauder in 1994, they created the AIDS Fund. The fund is financed entirely by the sale of MAC Cosmetics’ VIVA Glam products. That’s corporate allyship. They put RuPaul front and centre in 1994 and have been featuring queer celebs as the Via Glam Ambassador since the foundation’s inception.

But gay owned local brands are always the best sponsors and I’d wager dollar for dollar have given more over the past 40+ years. 

 

Some believe that increased sponsorship & branded products help lead to increased visibility — leading to increased donations, volunteers, & awareness of issues — even as companies profit off Pride. Can companies profiting off Pride be good allies?

I think the folks in Amsterdam have been able to find a balance — companies there take a back seat to the celebration of the annual Pride theme. Journalist Josh Nicholson explains it well in HuffPost, writing:

The Dutch people see Amsterdam Pride as a celebration of its LGBT community and the various annual themes promoting equality and diversity in the Netherlands. To make the corporate participants’ boats all about their respective companies, they said, would be to diminish that celebration and tribute. 

Local businesses are happy to participate in and support Amsterdam Pride, but they do so in a way that puts the people and theme first and branding or self-promotion last. And while most boats did have small participant identifiers on the sides, they mostly serve to help authorities and organizers queue up and identify the boats before and during the parade. 

 

Next up

For our upcoming #FutureOfGood Twitter chat, we’ll be talking about generating community solutions for future cities with Martin Canning, Executive Director of Smart Cities at Evergreen Canada. Thursdays at 12-1pm ET. Follow from anywhere. RSVP here to receive exclusive insights from the chat and get a reminder closer to the date.