The celebration of Gay Pride takes place every summer and in more locations every year since Britain’s first Pride event on the 1 July 1972. The date was chosen due to being the nearest Saturday to the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots, where members of the LGBT+ community protested against the police raid of the LGBT bar, Stonewall, in New York City. However, has Pride now evolved to stand for something else? With the increased amount of commercial stalls at Pride events and various companies embracing Pride month, has it become more about increasing companies’ clout and profit than love spreading and peacemaking?
Companies are attempting to lure in customers by creating a sense of identification between the brand and the consumer. Social media handles are changed with a phrase or pun in support of the LGBT+ community and familiar logos are edited against the rainbow flag. This gives way for an LGBT+ customer to choose a particular brand which embraces Pride. However, this can be seen as only a half-hearted appeal for profit. Once the period of Pride is over, many companies seem to forget about their big, supportive LGBT campaigns. The rainbow decorations vanish from shop windows and the next event takes centre-stage.
An example is Levi’s: the brand has gone to the extent of launching its ‘Proud Together’ collection, which is entirely inspired by Pride. The company claim that: “100% of net proceeds from our Pride collection go to OutRight Action International, working to advance human rights for LGBTQ+ people all over the world.” They are also working towards creating a photography exhibition about the LGBT community. This appears as a brilliant contribution that the multi-million-pound company are making, but why only in Pride month? Why only this one line? Why is ‘shop the collection’ plastered all over their exhibition page?
I believe they are, not even subtly, making their brand look positive to a certain group of people in order to entice them to purchase from Levi’s. Levi’s, however, are of course not the only company with this idea. Disney held its first Pride event this year at Eurodisney in Paris. The bottom line is that brands exist to make a profit so if they see a way of standing out and having a positive image then they will take up that opportunity, just as they do with Christmas, Halloween, Easter and so on. The issue with the commercialisation of Pride specifically is that companies are targeting and using a group of people who were, and often still are, victims of discrimination for their own profit-making purposes. This is where the ethics behind the brands’ positive social action must be questioned.
Having said that, the commercialisation of Pride could be viewed positively. It sheds light on the LGBT+ community, celebrates their existence, history and raises awareness of the oppression LGBT+ people have faced and are currently facing. Regardless of intentions, we cannot hide from the fact that global companies are donating to LGBT+ charities during Pride month and featuring LGBT+ actors in their pride advertisements. For example, the Co-operative released an advert centered around a trans-woman and stated to donate a portion of proceeds to Trans Pride. Maybe instead of focusing on the idea that brands are only creating supportive LGBT+ content during Pride, we could see it as a starting point and encourage brands to keep being publicly inclusive.
This spotlight also educates the rest of the population on LGBT+ history and how the community should be normalised, accepted and celebrated. Although, I believe this is what Pride used to be, but has gone beyond that to become a money-making opportunity with negative effects.
The negative effects are that members of the LGBT+ community are feeling used by companies, as though they have stolen Pride from the community to make their businesses more successful. This is the attitude that organisation Reclaim Pride Coalition are trying to tackle, with their website stating ‘march against the exploitation of our communities for profit and against corporate and state pinkwashing, as displayed in Pride celebrations worldwide.’ On 30 June they organised the Queer Liberation March which was a parade welcoming everyone and everything except brands, business, companies, promotions and advertising.
Pride has become over-commercialised to the degree that the very people it is for have begun to organise alternative events where they can celebrate the true essence of Pride. The LGBT+ community wish to celebrate the liberation and acceptance of their community and not the brands attempting to make money from them. The commercialisation of Pride is damaging for the LGBT+ community, but also to the wider society who should be educated on LGBT+ matters rather than simply sold products based on it. Overall, it makes the companies and brands using Pride unethical, dishonest and selfish.