LGBTQ+ inclusion speaker and consultant, Max Siegel explains how your organization can properly serve up support and advocacy during Pride Month.
Max Siegel — May 25, 2023
Pride month is fast approaching and with it the hurricane of rainbow logos and the subsequent internet roasting of 50% of those brands who update their LinkedIn company profiles for the occasion. The narratives around corporate Pride campaigns aren’t always easy to understand, especially if you don’t spend much time under the rainbow rock as I do. As a full-time LGBTQ+ consultant and speaker, it’s my job to find the positive connection between the essential activism which the Pride movement encapsulates, and the place of corporate activism both within and beside it.
At face value, the sheer fact that companies and corporations outwardly make any effort to recognise, and even celebrate, their LGBTQ+ employees is groundbreaking in a broader historical context. When just a few decades ago the idea of being “out” at work would be utterly unthinkable for most, and a few decades before that it would almost certainly lead to imprisonment, a rainbow flag on your bank’s windows seems like positive progress at the very least.
However, the cries of “performative allyship” are rarely far away and for justifiable reasons. “Pride” products from a company that, at best, has never contributed to an LGBTQ+ charity, and at worst has actively funded anti-LGBTQ+ politicians, sees most people reluctant to engage. However, it’s not just the unsubstantiated and irrelevant nature of many Pride campaigns that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of LGBTQ+ folks.
To an observer, the “rainbowification” every June creates an outsized impression of political and economic power, which in reality for LGBTQ+ people is not only limited but growing increasingly under threat as anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-Trans laws passed in the United States and around the world. This illusion makes it even more difficult for LGBTQ+ people to get the support and credit needed to tackle the real issues facing their communities.
What does best practice look like when it comes to company Pride recognition? As an LGBTQ+ consultant, I find myself faced with this question as part of nearly every client conversation I have. As much as I’d love to give them a set five-point plan (followed by my invoice), a little more nuance is involved in creating an internal or external Pride campaign.
Before I am able to start guiding their plans, I begin with a few open questions:
The first question here may seem a little obvious considering the context, but when it comes to Pride engagements it is an essential component in creating a campaign which starts from a place of authenticity. If your intentions behind a campaign are anywhere in the remit of “because our competitors are” or “because our customers expect us to,” I’d recommend winding back your approach to incorporate the history, and reasons for the existence, of Pride itself.
LGBTQ+ Pride was born out of a protest movement which fought for and is still very much fighting for, equal rights for LGBTQ+ people. The Stonewall Riots, a 1969 spontaneous protest by LGBTQ+ people in New York at the Stonewall Inn as police attacked them, is now widely seen as the starting point for the global Pride movement. The riots sparked a wave of LGBTQ+ activism and resistance which, over 60 years later, has spearheaded the legalisation of same-sex marriage, equality protections, LGBTQ+ education in schools and widening societal acceptance which is slowly improving the lives of LGBTQ+ people globally.
In a quote usually attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but likely borrowed from others, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” Separated from the likely views of its speakers, this quote encapsulates the fight in which LGBTQ+ people currently find themself within. The common perception, bolstered by the previously mentioned effects of rainbow washing, is that the progress made by the LGBTQ+ movement is not only much more widespread than it is in reality but is also an irreversible sign of progress.
As you read this, there are currently nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills moving through the US legislature. Across the pond, the UK government is reviewing LGBTQ+ education in schools whilst also attempting to remove Transgender people from protection under equality laws. In Italy, newly elected right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is blocking the registration of the children of same-sex couples, whilst Poland attempts to implement “LGBTQ Free zones” as part of a growing “anti-gay” movement.
Motivations for Pride campaigns, therefore, must take into account the universal need to protect not only LGBTQ+ people but the laws and social acceptance which keep them safe.
The second question, “What are your goals for your LGBTQ+ team members?” is a more polite version of a statement I have loudly proclaimed from many a rainbow-clad podium:
Max speaking at Influencer 360, Brighton UK
With worrying frequency, we see companies and brands rushing to engage the LGBTQ+ community externally, whilst forgetting about their own team members. Not only will this result in the alienation of your internal community, but the internet will also be able to confirm if your external commitments catch up to your internal ones.
Rather than being tempted to tackle these questions discreetly and in full before discussing Pride at work, there is both power and opportunity in using them and the associated ideas or answers to form part of an internal Pride campaign. With such a highly charged topic, I often see organisations holding back from an open conversation with their teams, preferring to wait until they have more structure in place.
The hesitancy is understandable, but this approach can lead to policies which do not recognise the real needs of teams, combined with a lack of community engagement from the people you are aiming to engage. Creating psychological safety for LGBTQ+ team members begins with a conversation as opposed to the creation of policy and culture which speaks about them rather than to them.
When it comes to external Pride recognition, striking a balance between the protest or protection element of Pride and also the celebration of the community is a delicate but rewarding endeavour.
The first part of any external Pride campaign should always be the charity partnership. Choose a partner which is geographically or industrially relevant to your organisation. Although it may be tempting to go with the biggest and brightest, remember that smaller organisations are in desperate need of your investment, and the LGBTQ+ community will see that you have done your research.
Speaking of money, Pride budgets should be designed to cover industry benchmarks and sit at the same levels as other campaigns which take place during the year. It is essential that any Pride-related campaign adequately covers talent compensation as well as promotion and production. The LGBTQ+ market, estimated to be worth $211 billion in 2022, is certainly not to be sniffed at, yet time and time again we see brands reluctant to invest in their June campaigns. If you want great content, conversion, performance and recognition, you need to budget accordingly.
My final piece of advice which falls across both internal and external Pride programs or campaigns is to make sure you remember all of the letters. The LGBTQ+ community is made up of millions of intersecting identities. It is a diverse, beautiful and fascinating collection of people. Only focusing on one part of the community when it comes to LGBTQ+ inclusion simply creates another level of exclusion, and encourages the notion of an “acceptable” face of the community.
When asked what he does for a living, Max Siegel, the Director of Trans& and content creator @theyrequeer, defines himself as a “Career Queer”. After spending years in partnerships and marketing, Max began sharing his own story of gender transition on social media and as a speaker, aiming to cut through the misinformation and misunderstandings around Trans and LGBTQ+ people. Today he speaks and consults for organisations all over the world to help them better understand, support and celebrate LGBTQ+ team members and customers.
Specialising in the “why before the what” when it comes to LGBTQ+ inclusion, Max uses an approach of honesty, vulnerability and lived experience to allow his audiences to understand how it feels to be an LGBTQ+ person in the world today. As well as discussing the importance of recognising and supporting the growing number of LGBTQ+ people in the workforce today, Max also covers the real business value of inclusion both internally and externally.