In early June, I went to Target with some friends. By the front entrance of the store was a display of their Take Pride collection, featuring rainbow flags, clothes, and accessories. I spent a few minutes exploring the collection, in awe of the bright colors and loud designs, trying on a rainbow hat that had caught my eye.
These displays of Pride are not limited to Target. For the past month, my Facebook feed has been inundated with sponsored ads for Pride merchandise, from rainbow sneakers to heart-shaped necklaces. Some companies have created ads featuring members of the LGBTQ community, including same-sex couples and trans people. Others have paid to sponsor and participate in Pride marches. As more companies celebrate Pride month, we ought to closely examine how corporations have impacted the movement for LGBTQ equality.
One of the most obvious benefits to increased corporate involvement is visibility. When major companies mass-produce rainbow shirts or create pride reacts on social media, they introduce customers to LGBTQ issues. In this way, the saturation of Pride paraphernalia in stores and online helps to normalize LGBTQ issues as more people become aware of them.
We also can’t forget about the importance of money in supporting a movement. Corporate sponsors provide the financial resources to expand Pride marches and thus increase visibility. For example, NYC Pride received $1.7 million from 56 corporate sponsors in 2016. Similarly, Pride merchandise can also support the movement for equality, as some companies donate all or a portion of those proceeds to LGBTQ causes.
But these benefits don’t come without drawbacks. Some argue that the commercialization of Pride trivializes the goals of the movement, turning Pride into a marketing strategy rather than a movement for equality. I’m thankful that our society is becoming more accepting, but I worry that, to some, Pride is just a current fad rather than a long lasting commitment to support the LGBTQ community. I have to wonder whether those same companies would be so supportive of Pride if their support was negatively impacting their sales. Where were they decades ago when Pride wasn’t as cool?
Corporate involvement in Pride can also set an example of bad allyship. Some of these companies pretend to care about LGBTQ issues for just one month and then do nothing the rest of the year. And, while it’s great that more allies show support for the LGBTQ community by marching in Pride or purchasing merchandise, many just want to have a good time and ignore the long struggle for equality and inclusion behind it. It’s easy to wave a rainbow flag in a parade, but it’s much harder to combat systematic oppression against LGBTQ people and re-evaluate your own role in perpetuating this oppression. We see this problematic allyship too often with individuals; we don’t need companies doing the same.
Commercialization has also altered the dynamic of Pride marches, which used to be a way to escape heteronormativity, create community, and encourage activism with other queer people. Now, it’s more straight, more cis, and more white. In making Pride more palatable to general society, our community has been diluted and made less radical. This has the added harm of sending the message that the only acceptable form of Pride is one that makes cis straight people comfortable.
So, what can we do about this?
If you’d rather not participate in corporate-influenced Pride marches, there may be grassroots groups in your area hosting their own events. I attended the Boston Dyke March, and it was a powerful celebration of queer intersectionality with a strong focus on local activism. While at the March, I picked up some pamphlets on mental health in the queer community, along with pre-made stickers that read “African-American Dyke,” “Asian Dyke,” and “Biracial Dyke.” It definitely had a different feel from Boston Pride.
And for those who like to buy Pride merchandise, be mindful of where you’re buying from. Is it a company run by LGBTQ people? Do the proceeds from the purchase go towards LGBTQ causes? What does this company do year-round to promote LGBTQ equality? Is it a safe and welcoming workplace for LGBTQ employees? Does this company’s ads show diversity? What other causes does it support financially?
I was curious about Target’s track record, and so I did some Googling. I’m proud to shop at a store that donated part of the proceeds from their 2012 Pride collection to an organization that advocated for marriage equality, encourages customers to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, installed gender-neutral bathrooms in all of their stores, signed an amicus curiae brief in support of marriage equality, partners with the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, removed the gendered labels and colors in their Toy and Kids’ Bedding aisles, and received a perfect score on the Human Rights Council’s Corporate Equality Index. However, I was disappointed to learn that none of the proceeds from their 2017 Take Pride collection go to benefit LGBTQ causes (or if they do donate, they don’t state that on their website).
I went to Target a few weeks ago with some family members, some of whom I’m not out to because they’re not accepting of LGBTQ people. As we entered the store, I walked straight past the Take Pride collection and avoided looking directly at it. But, despite my best efforts, I still saw the rainbow hat out of the corner of my eye.
Maybe it’s shallow, but there’s something comforting in knowing that some Target executive thought LGBTQ equality was important enough to create a special Pride collection. And maybe I’m just being sentimental, but there have been times where I’ve felt more accepted in Target’s Pride aisle than I have in my own home.
Or maybe I’m just being suckered into another marketing ploy.
Becina J. Ganther ’20 is a Crimson editorial editor in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.
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