The satirical website McSweeney’s recently published a piece called “My Coming Out Story, Sponsored by Bank of America.”
Anyone who has been to an LGBTQ Pride celebration (or seen Pride-themed ads on Facebook) will immediately get it: Corporations are falling over themselves to wrap themselves in rainbows, because they see Pride as a corporate branding opportunity.
Let me be clear: The greatest struggle of my life is not a corporate branding opportunity.
A lifetime of feeling different and wrong and dating people I’m not attracted to because I think it’s the only way to live—and only getting to fully inhabit my true self starting in my late 30s after years of therapy—has nothing to do with selling toothpaste, beer, or bank accounts.
Years ago, I got a degree in marketing. In our senior capstone class, we learned that you can either change your product so it’s more in line with what people want, or you can change people’s impression of your product so that they think it is.
Slapping a rainbow on your brand constitutes the latter. I want to see more of the former.
If a corporation wants to truly support the LGBTQ community, here are the questions I want them to answer:
Are your LGBTQ employees afraid to come out at work for fear of discrimination? Do they feel they must change jobs before they can transition to the gender they identify as or come out as queer? Do they feel comfortable discussing their families with coworkers the same way straight employees do?
If an LGBTQ employee faces harassment at work, does your HR department deal with it appropriately?
Are LGBTQ employees promoted at the same rate as straight employees? Do you have LGBTQ people in management?
Do your benefits fulfill the needs of queer couples as well as straight couples?
If your insurance covers pregnancy for heterosexual couples, does it also provide for the fertility treatments, surrogacy, or adoption that a gay or lesbian couple would need to start a family?
Does your insurance cover gender affirming medical procedures and surgeries transgender employees need? Do you allow transgender employees the time off needed to get gender affirming surgeries and recover from them?
Did you provide benefits for same-sex partners before same-sex marriage was legal?
Do your political contributions support candidates who advocate LGBTQ rights?
Can your LGBTQ employees go the bathroom they feel most comfortable using when they’re at work? Do their colleagues use the proper pronouns (he/she/they) for trans or nonbinary workers, and are those workers supported when they correct colleagues who misgender them?
Do your advertisements feature LGBTQ individuals and families?
Are your products inclusive of LGBTQ people and our needs? Can a transgender or non-binary person buy your products without feeling misgendered by them? (For instance, if you make shoes, do trans women have to go to your “men’s” line to find shoes that fit?)
Are your employees trained to treat LGBTQ customers respectfully?
For example, transgender men and non-binary people who were assigned female at birth can get pregnant and give birth. And children of same-sex couples have two moms or two dads. When these families go for prenatal visits at the doctor, are they confronted with paperwork and providers who assume that only women get pregnant and all couples include a mom and a dad?
Like my high school English teachers said, corporations should “show, don’t tell.” Instead of telling us what fantastic allies they are, they need to show us. And that takes more than putting rainbows in your advertising and handing out cheap rainbow swag at our Pride celebrations.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson writes about food, agriculture, the environment, health, tolerance, and well-being. Currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at University of Wisconsin-Madison, she’s the author of “Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.” Distributed by OtherWords.org.