Pride in Business

Posted: 30th June 2023

As June comes to an end and Pride comes to a close, one of our Trainee’s Fionnuala, who is currently sitting within our Court of Protection team wanted to discuss how Pride is currently handled by businesses and how companies should be focussing on making sure they are inclusive and offering respect to LGBTQ+ clients, customers and employees.

The first Pride, in June 1970, marked the anniversary of the uprising at New York’s Stonewall Inn (famously known as the Stonewall Riots). Police raids on gay bars at the time were routine, but, in June 1969, Stonewall’s patrons fought back, with the action lasting several nights. Although the Stonewall Riot was not the first instance in which the LGBTQ+ community fought back against the police, it is still widely viewed as a pivotal point in the LGBTQ+ rights movement.

Bisexual activist Brenda Howard conceptualised and coordinated the pride rally known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day March (where the Stonewall Inn is based) which later transformed into NYC Pride. The first Pride march was later established in the UK in London in 1972.

Over 50 years on, LGBTQ+ Pride has expanded into mainstream Western culture, and the entire month of June is often now designated as Pride Month. In the UK, it is largely accepted as a time for celebration, and many also take the opportunity to draw attention to ongoing rights battles for LGBTQ+ people through protest and demonstrations.

Since the 90’s, companies have been amongst the keenest celebrators of Pride Month. Rainbow logos, pride themed merchandise, and corporate sponsorships of pride events have become common, and sometimes even expected ways that companies demonstrate their support for the LGBTQ+ community in the month of June.

And whilst this support is often appreciated and usually well engaged with, it sparks an important conversation about the meaning and purpose of Pride today.

Public support for the LGBTQ+ community can demonstrate that a company is inclusive, forward thinking, and value driven, and this can ultimately benefit a company’s public image. However, many have questioned how genuine and substantive that support really is. Has corporate Pride evolved into a superficial marketing campaign? Should we be critical of companies who commodify LGBTQ+ activism for their own gain?

These are questions which both the LGBTQ+ community and companies choosing to mark Pride Month have been grappling with for years. On one hand, it is surely positive for the LGBTQ+ community that Pride is so widely and openly spoken about and celebrated. For so many LGBTQ+ people, secrecy and shame have been wrapped up with identity for at least some part of life. Celebrating Pride out in the open with other LGBTQ+ and allies can be a powerful way to shake off that shame.

On the other hand, corporate Pride campaigns are criticised for being empty – all rainbows and celebration with no action. Some LGBTQ+ people feel that their activism has been co-opted by companies in order to drive business whilst they simultaneously refuse to address real homophobia and transphobia that exists within their offices or in the wider world.

This is a complicated conversation and there is no perfect solution for corporate Pride which works for every company or every LGBTQ+ person.

It may seem an obvious point to make, but behind the general categories of employers, staff, clients and customers, there are always real people and some of them will be LGBTQ+.

Keeping in mind that Pride is something which is celebrated by and for real people seems a good place to start in planning corporate Pride strategies.

Perhaps instead of focussing on an easy and splashy Pride campaign, it is enough just to think about what kind of workplace culture a company wants to foster for its LGBTQ+ colleagues, or how best it can support and respect LGBTQ+ clients or customers. It might not matter that Pride celebrations take place within the designated month of June, or that they make for colourful social media content. What matters is that a company can make the decision to work towards a world which is kind to LGBTQ+ people – even in small ways.

Incorporating this kind of authentic support into the day-to-day running of a business can be difficult, and even companies who put considerable effort into leading a values-driven business can struggle to find the ‘right’ words or strike the ‘right’ balance between action and branding.

No company or corporate Pride campaign is perfect. However, I believe the bottom line should be this – it’s better to do or say something than nothing at all. We stand with LGBTQ+ in whatever way we can in order to make the world a kinder place.

Happy Pride.