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Peeking Behind the Pride Purdah

Nothing says ‘Happy Pride!’ like the run up to a general election. With new policies being promised and rainbow lanyards a point of contention in government, we’re now facing the ‘Pride Purdah’.


For those looking for inclusive language tips, here’s one from the House of Commons: the pre-election period of sensitivity occurs in the weeks leading up to an election or referendum. The period is also called the period of ‘heightened sensitivity’ and in the past was often known by the term ‘purdah’.


The term ‘purdah’ comes from Urdu and Persian and means ‘curtain’, describes the period between the time an election is announced and the date the election is held. Historically, purdahs were traditionally used to screen women from male view, and the word came to be a general term for the South Asian and Islamic practices of segregating the sexes and keeping women's bodies concealed. In English use, the word has the extended sense of ‘a period of seclusion or isolation’, hence its former use in politics.


The word ‘former’ is interesting here. It appears the Commons has moved on from borrowing words and the period we’re now in is just called ‘the pre-election period of sensitivity’ - catchy, isn’t it? As much as we wanted to call this ‘the pre-election period of Pride’, we thought borrowing the word purdah might be OK just this one time.


So what lies behind the Pride Purdah?


Well, here at The Unmistakables, we offer ‘lived expertise’ - that is, the combination of lived experience and professional expertise that our colleagues bring to work. This uniqueness in worldview is underpinned by our Inside Out Inclusion framework for embedding DEI - and combined they help to accelerate change. The team got together and asked founder Asad Dhunna and senior consultant Amani Saeed to lift the curtain on how they really feel this Pride. 


As two Muslims tickled by the use of ‘purdah,’ Amani and Asad have answered using a mixture of lived experience as people in the community along with their professional expertise of working with businesses to advance the rights and support for LGBTQIA+ communities. They’ve developed global frameworks, award-winning campaigns and even interviewed CEOs on Pride. 


So, Amani and Asad, let’s start with the basics: how do you identify your sexual orientation and gender?


Amani: I identify as a queer something. ‘Queer’ as in ‘attracted to multiple genders.’  ‘Something’ as in ‘I don’t mind being called a ‘woman’ or ‘person,’ use she/they pronouns interchangeably, and wish the category of ‘woman’ felt more expansive. 


Gender characterisations have always felt very arbitrary because of how I was raised. When you grow up in a badass matriarchal household as an eldest daughter, being physically strong or being a decision-maker isn’t necessarily coded as ‘masculine.’ And being South Asian and Muslim, seeing people of all genders in what would be considered a dress in the West, using kajol, or wearing jewellery isn’t really coded as ‘feminine.’ There’s obviously nuance to this, but these terms mean very little to me as personal descriptors of gender identity. 


Asad: Gay man. The word queer had negative connotations for me growing up as it was still used as an insult in some circles. When I came out at a time multiple options weren’t necessarily known or available and so I feel proud to call myself gay, and I’ve never really felt like I needed to question it. 


What are you most looking forward to personally during Pride month?


Amani: Coming together with my friends in queer spaces. I’m not a big ‘go out and party’ person, but I will go to events like Black Pride or cabaret nights with organisations like the Bitten Peach and enjoy the feeling of not having to explain anything to anyone. 


I love the way we play with different forms of gender expression, the abundant creativity of queer people of colour, and the pervasive sense of humour mixed with realness that shines through at these events.


Asad: I’m really looking forward to hosting a Meet Up at Cannes Lions - bringing together the queer community and allies to explore the state of allyship in the workplace, and in creative work. 


Creative workplaces are stereotypically known to be ‘full of gays’ (according to Pride in London’s campaign, ‘We Are Everywhere’), but when we look beneath the surface, the progress and promotion of everyone in LGBTQIA+ communities isn’t the same and it’s important to address that. The Queer Ad Folk series is a great place to find more stories related to people’s experiences in the industry. 


At the same time, marketers are feeling less confident in being vocal in their brand support for Pride after seeing what happened to Bud Light, and also while they watch divisive elections happen around the world. Data has shown this trend and we’re now seeing the reality of that in the month. 


Let’s get into some of the big issues. What does actual progress for LGBTQIA+ communities look like for you?


Amani: As an individual, it’s being able to walk through the world and not be treated as either ‘an aberration’ or ‘utterly fabulous’. In a way, I want being queer to be as pedestrian as having brown eyes - it’s just another beautiful facet of who we are. 


As a consultant, it’s seeing equity in both the opportunities and outcomes for LGBTQIA+ people in the workplace at all stages of the employee lifecycle. I want to see us getting hired, promoted, and paid the same as any heterosexual person. Actually, the same as a straight, White man, because that’s where the bar is. 


And I would also expect to see policies, processes, and infrastructure that take into account the material differences of LGBTQIA+ life cycles and experiences. Things like parental policies that take into account various kinds of parenthood, transitioning at work policies, gender neutral bathrooms (we all have them in our homes, come on now), etc.


Asad: Progress looks like equity in opportunity. When speaking to another CEO recently, we talked about major life stages and the impact they have on someone’s life and career. Life stages in our community can be the same and can be different from those outside of it, so progress to me looks like more people really understanding that. 


With that understanding they can then create the right interventions, policies and processes and put them in place in a legally compliant way. Doing this on a global scale requires a lot of nuance and guidance, and so it goes beyond a rainbow logo rebrand - it goes into the infrastructure that Amani talks about.  


There’s another area where we need to talk about progress. When we developed the #PrideMatters campaign in 2018, we used the song ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ to highlight how far we’ve come as a community, and also set out the fact that there's still a long way to go. If I look at how trans rights and rhetoric has changed over those six years, I see regression. 


I think actual progress right now is the community working together to support the Trans+ community - it’s why we supported Allies Coming out for Trans+ (ACT+) and why the work of people like Marty Davies who founded Trans+ History Week is so important. 





How can I be supportive vs. performative? What are the do’s and don’ts?


Amani: As our colleague Rosie mentioned in her article with Stronger Stories, it’s really important to remember that you can’t badge yourself an ally - only members of LGBTQIA+ communities can do that. And you’re only getting the badge if you genuinely care, both when we’re in the room, and when we’re not. 


So on an individual level, I want to see you showing up in both your personal and professional capacities. Have those dinner table conversations with the people you have the direct ability to influence in your life. Go to protests when LGBTQIA+ communities are asking for it. If you’re also LGBTQIA+, be an ally to other parts of the alphabet, particularly non-binary and trans communities. If you’re monosexual, be inclusive of bi, pan, and queer people (because if one more person mentions that it’s a gateway to being gay or lesbian, I’m throwing biodegradable rainbow sparkles in your closet). 


At work, plug into what your LGBTQIA+ networks are asking for. Whether you’re in a position to either be a body on the ground or to influence at a more senior level, do what they’re asking you to do. 


The hard and fast rule is: if you wouldn’t be proud to do or say something in front of the LGBTQIA+ people in your life, don’t do it in private. 


Asad: I think Amani’s covered most of it. What I would add is that LGBTQIA+ people themselves need to know their history - acknowledging the hard fought for rights and realising that we stand on the shoulders of giants. If you’re looking for more advice then I suggest listening to Lisa Power, founder of Stonewall, on our Speakeasier podcast


What is one issue within the LGBTQIA+ communities we should be aware of?


Amani: As Asad said earlier, trans and non-binary communities are having a particularly hard time right now. In the UK, their rights are being rolled back and are used as fodder for culture wars and political campaigns. As a result of this, instances of hate crime and discrimination against trans people are rising –by 11% in the last year, and by 186% in the last five years. It’s crucial to remember that these are not campaign issues; these are people’s lives. And there are real consequences: according to Stonewalls’ LGBTQ in Britain report, almost half of all trans people have thought about taking their own life in the last year. That’s not a random coincidence. 


There are so many dog-whistles, or subtly aimed political messages, about trans people. It’s useful to look these up so you can begin to spot how common they are in the media, and debunk them when you hear them at home and in office conversations. One of the most common ones is that ‘we need to protect women and girls and their spaces, such as bathrooms.’ Think about who we’re ‘protecting’ women and girls from. If you follow that logic, we’re protecting them ‘from trans women,’ and they need protecting because ‘trans women are actually men.’ So these statements are actually transphobic - because trans women are women! If you want to hear more straight from a trans woman, check out Shon Faye’s book The Transgender Issue.


And frankly, the biggest threat to women right now is cis, straight men: according to UN Women UK, 71% of all women in the UK reported experiencing sexual harassment in 2021. 





Asad: Beyond what Amani has mentioned here, I would say there is still work to be done within LGBTQIA+ communities when it comes to addressing racism and other forms of discrimination. All too often the centre of gravity within the community can lean more male, more White and about drag - this is often because of where power lies and where public acceptance is today. When Ant and Dec dressed up in drag on Saturday Night Takeaway, it was a mainstream symbol of how far acceptance has come of a certain kind of gayness. 


The community is so much more nuanced than that, and so people should be aware of this and have open minds about what it means to be part of it. 


Is support of Pride welcomed if it is the only thing that an organisation or person is doing for LGBTQIA+ communities?


Amani: Sponsoring a Pride float might be ‘fun,’ but it’s worth asking if it’s really the thing that needs doing. Often, it’s the less sexy stuff - the data collection, the policy reviews - that is more useful to LGBQTIA+ communities in the workplace. If we see you doing the former but not the latter, it doesn’t ring as authentic. Recently, I heard of a brand that donated the company’s annual ‘Pride budget’ to a LGBTQIA+ charity, forging closer links with them so that they might work in genuine partnership in years to come. It’s not the thing that’s going to make headlines. But it is the thing that is going to show LGBTQIA+ communities that you’re serious. Because we’re very much past seeing corporate logos at Pride.


Asad: Hear, hear, Amani! When I volunteered for Pride we often saw that getting involved in Pride came from LGBTQIA+ colleagues who had built up the resilience and resources to bring their brand to the streets. That can never go unforgotten - there is a uniqueness to marching alongside those you work with to be visible to the world. 


I think supporting Pride can often be an early first step for organisations just starting out. The first question once the placards have been put down should be: what now? 


What one action would you like individuals / organisations / institutions to take to drive positive change for LGBTQIA+ communities?


Amani: Keeping it simple:


  • Individually - take the time to understand us. One of the best ways to do this is by consuming more books, music, shows, podcasts, etc created by LGBTQIA+ people. It’s a nice way to make allyship feel less like a chore, you’ll be supporting LGBTQIA+ creatives, and you’ll become more aware by osmosis - win-win-win. Personally, I’m enjoying listening to Cakes da Killa, have finally caught up on watching Call Me By Your Name, and am reading All About Love by bell hooks.

  • Organisations - stop making assumptions about what LGBTQIA+ people need. Ask them what they need, and then give them the support and resources to make it happen.

  • Institutions - stop being transphobic, UK government. Plain and simple.   


Asad:


Line up Lisa Power, Chaka Sobhani and Jan Gooding in your podcast list and come back to it in July. Keep the conversation going after Pride month. Being gay is for life, not just for June. Or according to a popular language app, it’s an every gay occurance. 




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