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The real villain of Pride? Queer fear: a deep dive

As we head into June, we’ve seen the beginnings of a vibrant month filled with Pride campaigns. Pride is a celebration of LGBTQIA+ communities and a reminder of the ongoing struggle for equity. It’s a period that is rich with storytelling - stories of joy and resilience, that have the power to inspire and drive change.

 

The Unmistakables and Stronger Stories have teamed up to explore the significance of storytelling during Pride. We'll delve into the importance of impactful campaigns during Pride (and all year round) and how to get over the ‘fear of getting it wrong’ by learning from others.


Why Pride, why now?


To set the scene: in the UK, politicians, media coverage, and corporate rainbow-washing have been adding fuel to the fire of an already ablaze culture war. This has put LGBTQIA+ communities directly in harm’s way and led to a rise in anti-trans and non-binary rhetoric and violence. 


Recently, there has been a disturbing trend of actions undermining LGBTQIA+ visibility and rights. ​​These span studies like the Cass Review, which many feel fail to support (young) trans and non-binary people adequately, to the banning of rainbow lanyards in the civil service. Many also fear the resurgence of a new Section 28, as the government plans to ban schools in England from teaching about the concept of gender identity. It’s unsurprising then that the UK continues to slip on ILGA’s annual Rainbow Map ranking. 


The impacts of these narratives are devastating. Hate crimes against trans people have surged by 11% in just one year, and by a staggering 186% over the past five years. This is also reflected online, with more social media commentary on LGBTQIA+ rights in the last year than the past three years combined (especially on X). The underlying emotions are highly polarised, from fear to joy.


The image shows a dashboard containing social listening metrics for LGBTQIA+ related mentions across various online platforms.
Social listening insight from BrandWatch: the graph illustrates a significant surge in online mentions of LGBTQIA+ topics, with total mentions reaching 407.42 million – a 482% increase.

In light of these developments, it makes sense that people are feeling a sense of queer fear in the run-up to Pride. But it also serves as a crucial reminder of the need for authentic allyship and a call to action to move beyond tokenism and work towards meaningful change. Remember: allyship is the active and regular practice of unlearning and re-evaluating actions. Only people from the communities you wish to support can deem you an ally — you can't badge yourself as one!


Why you?


The most powerful stories are the stories we tell ourselves. Because these are the stories on which we base our actions. In this case, it could be anything from ‘I want to be sensitive, but I fear I’ll get it wrong’ to ‘this all seems very overwhelming, I can’t see a clear path to help out’. As is often the case, it's not an individual person that represents the villain of the story, it’s an attitude – pervasive queer fear and the ease of comfortable complicity – that poses the real threat. To create change, we must overcome this villain and tell stories that reveal how we can create a better world that's safe for everyone.


Everyone has a sphere of influence. Over time, organisational campaigns, corporate endorsements and media portrayals have helped change LGBTQIA+ narratives and win key human rights. Storytelling in the form of films, TV shows, and campaigns continues to authentically represent LGBTQIA+ lives and contribute to a more inclusive culture. Initially, this focused on the simple yet powerful narrative of ‘Love is love’. Today, narratives have evolved to tackle more specific issues, e.g. ‘Protect trans kids’.


Supporting LGBTQIA+ communities enhances not only broader society but also benefits colleagues and customers alike. For instance, organisations today are expected to reflect the values of their employees and customers.


Supporting Pride is not just a moral imperative, but a strategic advantage for both employer and consumer brands.

This year’s Ipsos Pride Report has found that 60% of people in the UK have a relative, friend or work colleague who identifies as LGBTQIA+. According to Monster, 83% of Gen Z individuals consider a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion when choosing where to work. Also, 67% of LGBTQIA+ folks are likely to recommend something they see in advertising, compared with just 49% of their non-LGBTQIA+ counterparts and 78% of consumers are more likely to purchase from brands that support LGBTQIA+ rights. This highlights the growing expectation for organisations to take a proactive stance during Pride month and beyond.


So, how can you tackle queer fear?


Given the context, it’s clear that engaging with Pride is not as simple as punny adverts or slapping a rainbow flag on a product and calling it a day. 


‘Getting it right’ and creating meaningful change requires deeper thought, and it often starts with self-evaluation. Using the Pride barometer, you can think about where you are now vs. where you wish to be, and what stance aligns with your values. Also, think about the gaps in your organisation; doing this work properly means getting your house in order first — from policies to training.


Here are a few key steps you should take, complete with examples of good practice:


1. Understand the communities


Before launching into communications, it's crucial to understand the lived experiences and stories of the LGBTQIA+ communities; engage with voices at the forefront of culture, industry-specific LGBTQIA+ networks, and consume community-led news to educate yourself on current issues. You can start by learning some of the terms used by LGBTQIA+ folks in the Queersauras.


Wickes was praised for their allyship during Brighton Pride because it was rooted in understanding. They opted to tell a harder-hitting story that reflects key issues, specifically their messages included ‘No LGB without the T’ and ‘Ban conversion therapy for all’. Against the seas of the safe and sanitised ‘love is love’ monolith, they stood out and stood with the community. How? By encouraging and listening to internal employee resource groups, they got to know the everyday heroes of the story they wanted to tell.


2. Uncover your right to play


This is the ‘right’ that a brand or organisation has to enter into a particular subject or arena. The right to play is often defined by having the appropriate interest and investment in the community/ies you wish to engage with – it’s the alignment between the brand say and the brand do. Not every brand can authentically engage in every social issue. 


To find your right to play, you should identify your connection to the LGBTQIA+ community and build campaigns and stories around that. Ultimately, this means understanding your position as an ally.


Treatwell, for example, uncovered its platform as an enabler of LGBTQIA+ inclusive beauty treatments and gender-affirming wellbeing. They also extended their position as allies and gifted this platform to small and local businesses by encouraging them to ‘Pledge with pride’ and live up to their values with every booking.

3. Unleash the Pride


This means leaning into the joy of Pride and standing against the villain of queer fear. It also means getting prepared for feedback and getting ready to stand with the community if backlash ensues – authentic support means standing by LGBTQIA+ communities when things get tough.


Last year, we saw a lot of backpedalling from Pride campaigns (see: the viral Bud Light and Dylan Mulvaney saga). This caused harm to trans communities, contributors and influencers, putting them in the direct line of hate, and it led to initiatives like Outvertising’s Stand Your Ground pledge.


The North Face launched their campaign starring drag queen Pattie Gonia which faced backlash from anti-LGBTQIA+ groups. At this point in their story, they had a choice, either quivering at the first call of boycotts or doubling down on their stance. They did the latter, and their response was widely commended by LGBTQIA+ organisations and influencers.

“There is a time to stand behind trans and non-binary people, there's a time to stand beside them and a time to stand in front to protect them” PinkNews Trans+ Summit 2023

Moving from passive spectators to active allies isn't just a nice idea - it's a necessity. Organisations moving from spectators to active allies help create a better world for LGBTQIA+ lives now and in the future. In doing so, you can support LGBTQIA+ communities, enrich organisational culture, and strengthen connections with consumers.





*We’ve used the term queer when referring to LGBTQIA+ communities; a term reclaimed by some LGBTQIA+ communities in recent years. However, it is important to acknowledge its historic associations with discrimination and that it is not universally welcomed.

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