Getting involved in politics can have unpredictable positive or negative results, which is why most brands actively avoid taking a firm stance on major social and political issues. After decades of slow social progress, however, businesses are turning out to support, and to potentially capitalise on, gay pride and the broader LGBTQ rights movement. Gay pride events attract millions of people to major cities all over the world, and the potential boost to businesses who can cater to the community is very significant.
During pride month, businesses all over the world from major fashion retailers, to small furniture hauling companies to public transport systems proudly displayed rainbow flags and decals in shop windows and on vehicles. However, this outpouring of corporate support for the LGBTQ community is not as simple as hanging a rainbow sign in the window. A quick marketing stunt doesn’t always pay off in the long run, and businesses may stand to gain far more by taking a closer look at what consumers, employees, and the LGBTQ community expect from businesses claiming to support LGBTQ rights in 2019.
The gay community is wary of commercial involvement
LGBTQ culture has been appropriated and commercialised in the past, most notably with the emergence and mass marketing of the “metrosexual” aesthetic, which glamourised homosexual stereotypes to market beauty products to heterosexual men in the 2000s. The result of such marketing at the time was largely to further narrow stereotypes and exoticise the LGBTQ community. In light of this, it’s unsurprising that the LGBTQ community and major activists are wary of businesses looking to cash in on growing LGBTQ awareness and acceptance.
Businesses need to immediately follow up marketing with real action
A show of support, like hanging a rainbow flag into a shop window, marks a business as a safe space for LGBTQ people. Failing to live up to that support, however, can have serious negative impacts. Many businesses have come under fire for years of heavy-handed, but largely meaningless LGBTQ-friendly branding during pride month.
While rainbow branding might have helped them to drive sales during pride month, the ensuing backlash for failing to follow up with actual tangible support for the community can quickly wipe out any benefits. There are a lot of ways that businesses can get actively involved, whether by creating LGBTQ friendly workplaces, representing non-traditional relationships in their marketing, or financially supporting LGBTQ charities throughout the year.
LGBTQ support makes companies more competitive, and cultures healthier
Politically progressive people regardless of orientation, gender, or lifestyle are increasingly prioritising inclusive and egalitarian values in their workplaces. This makes it an important issue with regard to recruiting, and employee morale. With the growing acceptance of LGBTQ people in our societies, more and more people are coming out to embrace non-traditional identities and lifestyles. This is important for businesses to recognise, because it means that the LGBTQ people are not just potential customers; they’re already on your staff, and they want to be treated with respect by their employer, and to be able to go to work without the fear of facing hostile coworkers or managers.
The traditional corporate tack of ignoring a social issue such as this does not work, because subtle—or sometimes overt—discrimination directly affects employees in their workplaces. This kind of behavior not only directly impacts the morale and productivity of victims, it helps to generally lower morale and create a toxic work environment.
In most industries, job seekers are overwhelmingly young and progressive. Not only does that mean a larger portion of any given business’ talent pool is sourced directly from the LGBTQ community, but far fewer non-LGBTQ employees are willing to tolerate bullying or discrimination when they see it in the workplace. That means businesses who don’t foster an inclusive LGBTQ friendly atmosphere effectively become less competitive to prospective job seekers.
Understanding the risk of backlash
In past decades, businesses have largely avoided LGBTQ issues in order to avoid offending conservative consumers. Today, gay pride has been normalised (in most places) to a point where any consumer opposition is no longer economically meaningful. A few businesses, particularly in the US, have faced boycotts from conservative groups over their vocal support of LGBTQ rights, which have either had no measurable impact, or backfired spectacularly the moment that they gained media attention.
For younger generations in particular, discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation is unacceptable. With millennials now making up the largest segment of the workforce and the consumer base, simple neutrality on LGBTQ rights is increasingly a liability. For businesses, this means it’s time to find out how to meaningfully lend support to the LGBTQ community, and to break out the rainbow flags. It’s just good business.