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Moving Your Business Past Performative Allyship for the Queer Community

Most of us have seen the queer allyship trend for marketing the past few years – companies changing their logos to a rainbow colored or themed for the duration of June, historically considered Pride month due to the Stonewall riots beginning this month 50 years prior. Though a noble sentiment and a very visible way for companies to show solidarity with the queer community, consumers are starting to expect and want more impactful forms of allyship from retail and consumer product companies in addition to rainbow logos, which are now considered to be closer on the spectrum to performative allyship.  The term that has become more popular to describe this act of performative allyship is “Rainbow-washing”. The understood definition of “Rainbow-washing” is when companies, people, or even governments change their externally facing marketing (i.e. logos, products, etc.) to have rainbow themes during June while also not performing any tangible forms of allyship (donations, modification of firm policies, etc.). Especially with all the struggles and successes of the LGBTQ+ community recently, consumers, especially queer consumers – main drivers of pop-culture fashion change, want companies to support the queer community with not just words but also actions and their corporate dollars.

Performative Allyship

Rainbow-washing is a clear way for members of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies to determine whether or not a brand is truly and authentically committed to the community. Younger consumers, especially Gen Z and Millennials, focus on a brand’s politics and stances on social issues, particularly when it comes to DE&I and allyship when deciding where to shop from.  Because more consumers spend with their conscience now, committing to authentic allyship is imperative to create a new type of brand loyalty in the age of e-Commerce where consumers are more likely than ever to hop between brands with a few clicks of a button.

One common way that retail companies can do more substantial allyship is to change or adjust everyday marketing to better represent the queer community. Take for example, Calvin Klein, who took one of their most prominent billboards in New York City and put a solo shot of a Black trans lesbian on it when the models shown on that billboard were historically white models that promoted heteronormative standards.  Delta is a great example of a company that has made every-day marketing more inclusive. On their extendable runways that meet the plane, they have marketing of different couples/families/friends and one of the common posters that has been a gay couple with being served drinks by a flight attendant. Companies should also show consistent allyship in marketing to the queer community by using rainbow designs that are clearly meant to represent the queer community within your marketing strategies for products or themes all year long. With these marketing strategies or themes, using appropriate queer language and terms would further drive the inclusivity of your company’s message.

Companies can also show solidarity with the queer community by also examining internally the structures and norms that are sustained and perpetuated by your company culture. The most direct path to being a more active ally to the queer community is to restructure your organization to elevate and focus on queer voices for queer representation. These structural changes can be both macro- (creation of councils or leadership positions) or micro-structures (evaluating the language that your company handbooks and policies use). By focusing on queer voices within your firm and elevating those voices, your company’s allyship will by default become more active because you are allowing people from the queer community to subconsciously and consciously advocate for their people in your strategies and plans.  While creating councils and employee resource groups and other structural changes can help, the only way for these structural changes to have the best effect is to remove the structural barriers that normally prevent the queer community to get their ideas enacted (ex. non-inclusive managers, lip service to listening to ideas) and provide these groups with access to the ears of leadership.  Policies are another structure that can be modified/changed to show your companies allyship to the queer community. Some common policies you can look at are bathroom/gender policies, HR policies (benefits, compensation, healthcare policies – including gender affirming surgery, etc.), as well as legal policies (legal protection for your queer workers).

Another effective way to show allyship on a broader scale is to give back to the queer communities that surround your company. The most common way that companies, especially retail companies, have been giving back to the queer community is taking a portion of their proceeds for certain lines/products and giving them to specific queer charities or queer programs. Abercrombie, and their subsidiary Hollister, is a retail company that has consistently done this during Pride month – usually partnering with The Trevor Project. This year they still have their “A&F X The Trevor Project Pride Collection” still up and at full retail value mid-August which shows more of a commitment to allyship to the queer community than previous years. Companies can provide collaborations lines and products like this all year round to give a more sustained form of allyship. Companies can also pair all of their PR messages of solidarity with a charitable donation lump sum to put more weight and allyship to those PR messages instead of taking proceeds from a specific product or line.  Another way that companies can take a more firm stance with their allyship is in the political sphere. Unfortunately visibly supporting the queer community can be taken as a political stance and with that stance comes consumers that react violently and negatively to this stance. Instead of ignoring these reactions on social media or other forums, companies doubling down on their inclusive stance and showing solidarity even in the face of opposition truly shows their commitment to allyship to the queer community.

Every company is on their own journey to better their performative allyship to not just the queer community but to all underrepresented communities. The goal for your company should be continual growth and betterment even if the day-to-day changes are minuscule – eventually those small changes add up to improve the world for an entire community.

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Tags: Diversity + Inclusion, Organizational Effectiveness, Organizational Health