A Guide to Pride Without Pandering

It’s June and time for another Pride Month, the annual celebration of LGBTQ pride and identity. If you thought last year’s pandemic-influenced Pride was unusual, then this year promises to be even more different.

Why? Well, COVID-19 of course. And we have a new President and new leadership in Congress. And we’ve experienced a year of attention to the realities of life for people of color and LGBTQ people like no other in recent history.

Pride is a celebration, yes, but it started as a protest. And after the murders of Black and Latinx trans women like Tiara Banks and Chyna Carillo, the murders of George Floyd and so many others across the country, this year’s celebration of Pride will be defined by the experience of the past 50-plus years and the past year in equal measure.

For corporate communicators, Pride in 2021 can seem confusing and challenging. If you’re tempted to post a rainbow flag photo on your company’s social media feeds and call it a day, don’t. LGBTQ people are voters, employees, family members and consumers. We expect more now, and in the future.

If the past year has taught you anything, then it should be that the price of admission to the LGBTQ ally community is now much higher. Simply “celebrating” Pride once per year and doing nothing the rest of the year (or worse, actively opposing equality the rest of the year) is not just wrong, it’s communications malpractice.

If you’re a company interested in authentically engaging in Pride this year, then read on. Here’s an initial checklist of considerations that should represent a starting point for you to follow in considering how best to engage around Pride — call it a Guide to Pride Without Pandering:

  • Learn about our community before you start speaking to it. Do you know who Frank Kameny was? How about Bayard Rustin or Audre Lorde? Can you explain the significance of Tammy Baldwin or Laverne Cox? Educate yourself about the rich history of our community, and understand both trailblazers and current leaders and influencers.
  • Seek communications help. It’s not your LGBTQ employees’ job to be the sole voice representing your company, and not all LGBTQ employees are able or interested in speaking out for you. Engaging LGBTQ communications professionals with experience is best.
  • Make June the start of your engagement, not a once-a-year publicity effort. If you’ve never engaged with our community before, then welcome. But don’t stop on June 30. Develop and conduct a year-long program of engagement and stick with it.
  • Understand that Pride is about more than rainbows and nice words; it’s about action and progress. That means that, before you do anything to mark or celebrate Pride, ensure that your own house is in order. Do you have employee resource groups or other affinity organizations for diverse staff? How do LGBTQ employees feel about you and your workplace? Are you involved in our community in some way (such as a partnership with an LGBTQ advocacy or other group)? The list is long.
  • Understand that Pride is about a community that is as diverse as the global community and LGBTQ people are not just everywhere, but everybody. Despite what you may think from commonly used photography, the LGBTQ community is at least as diverse as America. We are every color you can name. We are rich and poor. We are rural and suburban and urban. If you’re trying to reach us and celebrate us, then understand that you need to reflect the rich diversity that is us.
  • Recognize that LGBTQ people see what you’re doing: We “read the labels.” If your anti-LGBTQ actions betray your pro-LGBTQ words during Pride Month, then you will be called out. Ensure that your house is in order — or take steps to make it so — before you start celebrating us.
  • Take action to make sure your policies are LGBTQ-affirming for both employees and customers. This means offering benefits and providing the same level of pay, promotion and opportunity to LGBTQ people as you do to others.
  • Speak out against anti-LGBTQ efforts at the local, state and national level — This means advocating for our humanity not just when it’s convenient, but when it’s necessary. Always in all ways.
  • Consider who speaks for you and what they say. You need to demonstrate leadership from the highest levels, and you need to have something substantive to say, but you also need to understand that your words must match your actions.
  • Know when to speak up and when not to. Some things just aren’t appropriate for companies and organizations to comment on, so don’t. And when you do speak up, remember that elevating LGBTQ voices can sometimes be just as important as raising your own. (So do both.)

This may seem like a big list, but it’s just the beginning, at least if you want to understand how best to engage with our community as an ally, and do more than pay lip service to what is both a celebration and an act of defiance against inequality and hatred.

Use this guide to understand how multifaceted and diverse the LGBTQ community is and how much we expect from the companies and organizations that want to engage us. And then take action the right way and stick with it — not just in June, but all year long.

We expect respect and to be treated as equal members of society with equal needs, interests and concerns. That’s true equality. And that’s what Pride is all about.

Ben Finzel is president of RENEWPR in Washington, D.C., an NGLCC-certified LGBT Business Enterprise. In 2003, he co-founded FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international PR firm (FleishmanHillard). In 2019, he co-founded The Change Agencies, the first national network of multicultural and LGBTQ-owned and operated PR firms. He is a member of the executive committee of the PRSA Counselors Academy and is actively involved in advocating for LGBTQ people in the PR profession as the founder of DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals in the Nation’s Capital Region.

[Photo credit: shutterstock]


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