“This year, Pride just feels a bit different.”
I’ve lost count of how often I’ve heard these words in the past month. They’re spoken by people from all parts of the LGBTQ community – personally and professionally.
They are spoken by our allies and by those who less certain of Pride’s purpose and intentions - often accompanied with a hint of masked glee.
But intriguingly, they are spoken by corporates.
Organisations that readily sponsored Pride activities and LGBTQ groups in past years, but this year seem less ready to part with their pink dollars and pounds.
Remember how we once scoffed at the Marks and Spencer GBLT sandwich? How we accused Starbucks of pinkwashing with their glitter Frappuccinos? How so many activists fumed about corporate takeovers of Pride?
Those protests are less vocal this year as corporates reduce visible support for Pride and other LGBTQ causes.
I’m writing this post in a Starbucks right now and there isn’t even a slither of rainbow in sight.
And is it just me, or are fewer office workers now donning rainbow lanyards like they all seemed to do in 2019?
The muted tone of 2023 is unquestionably driven by increasing polarisation of opinion around key LGBTQ issues. Support for Pride is no longer a mainstream necessity. It’s now firmly an activist position.
This hesitancy is reinforced by recent marketing catastrophes (think Bud Light) which had a disastrous impact on both sales and stock price. Bloomberg reported yesterday that mentions of “Pride” are other LGBTQ terms in company updates are dramatically down on previous years.
Corporates are starting to conclude that support for LGBTQ causes is a lose-lose scenario. If they get it right, the LGBTQ community accuses their brand of pinkwashing. If they get it wrong, the anti-woke brigade piles in and their bottom line is hit.
But an absence of corporates means an absence of money. And love it or loathe it, money buys impact. It enables LGBTQ groups to purchase the banners that make the visible, to host the events the allow their members to connect, and to provide the funding they need to sustain their operations.
Corporate support also provides reach. An opportunity to take a message of inclusion and tolerance to ears upon which it may not often fall. The LGBTQ community is poorer without this.
The polarisation of opinion on LGBTQ issues is the most sinister component of this trend. A few years ago, open and overt criticism of gay rights was a faux pas. That is sadly no longer true.
Here are a selection of comments that I recently received for daring to post about Pride on social media:
“Narcissist. Get over yourself. Why anyone needs to get an entire month for celebrating who they have sex with is ridiculous.”
“You get enough solidarity. give it a rest.”
“It’s not all about you, all the time you know that right? There are other things that are more important”
I’m not a prolific social media poster and it saddens me to think about the sort of hate that activists must receive on a daily basis.
Tolerance is the glue that holds democratic societies together and is fundamental to social cohesion. The less tolerant we are as individuals, the less accepting we become as communities – and the weaker our societies become.
Pride still has a function. It presents opportunity for the community and our allies to come together and remember the importance of tolerance and respect. A chance to visibly endorse the economic value that diversity has been repeatedly proven to deliver. And of course – a moment to remember victims of LGBTQ hate crimes that continue to plague our societies today.
As I write this post, I’m thinking about the many, many LGBTQ business leaders that I’ve had the privilege of working with and working for over the years. I’m thinking about the wonderful LGBTQ groups that I’ve had the honour of serving, from Cluster Q to BGLAD to Series Q and EurOut. I’m not going to namecheck individuals as I’d probably miss the most important ones, but you know who you are. I love and respect you all.
Let’s work keep working together to make Pride matter in an age where pinkwashing is passé.
I’m passionate about Series Q as I deeply believe our community needs to champion successful LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, providing strong role models for anyone taking the plunge to launch their own business. Outside of Series Q, I'm co-founder of Electric Sheep: AI Training for Professionals. Previously, I was COO of EdTech pioneer Decoded and founder of a business within the Financial Times.