Five Tips on How to Show Corporate Pride Without the “Ick” Factor

Photo by Ana Cruz

Photo by Ana Cruz

Times sure have changed. Where Pride parades were once politically-charged marches, today they're brand-friendly parties where corporate sponsors reign. Pride events in the US have transformed into “sponsored by” spectacles that seem more like living, breathing ads, rather than a statement for human rights. New York Pride, for example, is sponsored by the likes of T-Mobile, Delta, and Pepsi Co., to name just a few. New Orleans PRIDE is now “Presented by GE Digital Presents: New Orleans Pride;" and in 2017, Pittsburgh tried to rename PRIDE and met some opposition.

Here’s the thing about corporate sponsorship: it brings much-needed cash flow to the LGBTQ+ community and businesses. In Toronto’s case,
Pride Toronto relies heavily on donations and external support to provide funding to the 519 community centre (among other institutions) and its many crucial programs. That’s not to say that Pride Toronto’s list of corporate sponsors is short by any means.  So, how do we keep educating, as well as celebrating corporate sponsorship without that “icky” feeling of “Pink Capitalism?”


Here are some ideas:


1. Start Long Before Pride Month

Especially if you’re a brand that’s present in your local “gaybourhood.” It’s not enough to add a rainbow flag during Pride Month (June in most North American cities). A true allied brand will show acceptance and inclusion all year round. That’s what we are looking for. Bonus points for consistency. Diesel, for example, started in 1994 and Absolut Vodka began even earlier than that, showing their support in 1981.

Photo by David Lachapelle

Photo by David Lachapelle


2. Be Active

Be an active member of the LGBTQ+ community, after Pride. Showing up at Pride is nice, and including gay and lesbian people in marketing materials and ad campaigns for the month is great, too. But our community is so much more than that. Our queer and trans population are still marginalized and unfairly treated. Companies that put their brand power behind those causes get a lot more credit. This is what Absolut and other shining examples have done.


3. Evolve. We Have

It’s not an easy thing to go against the grain, and the LGBTQ+ community can understand that. Which is why, when brands like TD & RBC add Pride iconography to their brick-and-mortar locations in the “Gay Village” of Toronto, they are embraced and accepted, for the most part. Some residents are even sad if (or when) the installations are taken down. So, we say, keep them up. It’s even better if you take it a step further and host something special. Every brand wants to stand out... right?


4. Speak Our Language

No, that doesn’t mean we expect corporations to start tossing out lingo the likes of which we hear on Queer Eye and RuPaul’s Drag Race, but the LGBTQ+ community does have a tone of voice. The more anyone, including corporations, can understand the issues the LGBTQ+ community is talking about and join the conversation in a relatable way, the more the community at large accept them. Here’s an example of what NIKE did.


5. Pride Comes From Within

If a brand and its Pride message are not aligned, the community will see that, and that’s what leads to diminished respect for a brand. Having a company culture that’s accepting of all LGTBQ+ issues, identities and lifestyles will resonate with the community. Making “Pride” part of a brand’s personality will only lift the LGBTQ+ staff morale, which in turn leads to happy staff who are proud of your brand. This is how you make LGBTQ+ champions for your brand. Who doesn’t want that?

In the end, authenticity matters. As with any public-facing corporate message, the motivation needs to be and feel more than monetary. This is particularly important when involving a community or subculture. A lone rainbow flag or sudden presence in the Pride Parade isn’t enough. To get support from the LGBTQ+ community, companies are going to have to adopt other aspects of the culture, too. We are more than a flag.

Talk to us, not at us, and we will listen.

Photo by Galen Perera (courtesy of Microsoft)

Photo by Galen Perera (courtesy of Microsoft)

Amardeep Somal