These acts of corporate awareness raising can be powerful. They can send a message to a customer or an employee of the rainbow-clad organisation that LGBTQ+ people matter. There’s no doubt that many folks appreciate a show of solidarity.
It wasn’t so long ago that the traditional Pride Flag was the go-to-choice of well-meaning marketing teams. These days, the conversation around equality has progressed to highlight the struggles of trans and gender non-conforming folk, and the intersecting oppressions on Black and Brown people who are LGBTQ+. So, we are now seeing the adoption of the much more inclusive New Pride Flag which integrates the Trans Pride Flag along with a black and brown stripe for People of Colour.
And with that, these companies are publicly adding their collective voice to a movement which seeks to eradicate exclusion for anyone whose sexual orientation isn’t heterosexual and for whose gender identity isn’t simply aligned to the male or female sex assignation they were given at birth. A movement that raises awareness that LGBTQ+ people don’t live single issue lives i.e., that a gay man may be disabled or that a trans woman may be Black, and how both will face unique prejudice because of these intersecting aspects of their identities.
So should we congratulate those organisations who are willing to step up and show their support for this movement?
Not so fast. So much of that allyship is purely performative – tokenistic even.
I’m not a particularly cynical person, I optimistically give people and organisations the benefit of the doubt. There are many around though for whom that optimism is no longer an option; they’ve grown weary of the rainbow-washing that defies the reality of how little inclusion there is behind closed doors for people from the LGBTQ+ communities.
Last night my optimism, naïve as it may be, was knocked when I embarked upon a spot of online clothes shopping.
My first stop was on the John Lewis website. I immediately spotted their bright new logo. I thought to myself that this huge retailer must’ve done a lot of work behind the scenes to educate and make change if they’re showing allyship to not only gay, bi and lesbian folk but to trans and gender non-conforming people too. But wait a minute, when I look at their menu I see the option for adult clothing is either ‘Women’ or ‘Men’. A quick look at Marks & Spencer’s website shows the same; a new logo and a choice between clothing for ‘Women’ or ‘Men’. This is a concerning disconnect between their branding and their operational set up. Surely a more inclusive approach would be ‘Feminine’ and ‘Masculine’, maybe even a third option of ‘Neutral’?
The outdated approach of assigning a gender to an item of clothing is not inclusive. Clothes don’t have a gender identity, but every single person does. If retailers want to be true allies and wave a Pride Flag then authenticity is needed. Offering the option to buy clothes that correspond to a feminine, a masculine or a neutral expression of gender would feel more genuine.
Furthermore, it leads to wonder whether these ‘proud’ allies (and many others I haven’t listed) also ensure that the goods they sell aren’t manufactured in countries where there’s a hostile climate for LGBTQ+ folks.
Unless the corporate allyship is based in genuine action-orientated inclusion, the pretty rainbow logos just feel like lip service and another marketing ploy.
Tony McCaffery, Founder of Diversity Scotland