Guest Blog by Ben Pechey: How can brands celebrate Pride effectively?

Guest Blog by Ben Pechey: How can brands celebrate Pride effectively?

This week our blog is written by the magical Ben Pechey. Ben is a freelance writer, content creator, fashion critic, proud Leo and LGBTQIA+ Activist from Yorkshire, UK. Ben joined us earlier this week to mediate and kick start our regular weekly debate.

This week, the question centred around fashion brands and Pride. Even though Pride is rooted in riots and protests for the rights and liberation of the LGBTQIA+ community, we are very aware of consumerism around Pride (and this is perhaps why we haven't featured Pride specific collections earlier like this before). Brands are seen to sell specific products each June, often with rainbow flags, with little else for the rest of the year. It's easy to see how Pride can been diluted with brands seeking to profit off and commercialise the cause.

With this in mind, we wanted to facilitate a discussion so everyone could have their say! Some amazing experiences, opinions and thoughts were shared on the pros and cons of pride campaigns, language usage, identity and good allyship. What do you think? Has Pride lost sight of its history as a political protest for liberation? How do you feel about brands launching collections and products for Pride and How can it be done well? What could we have done better?

Ben discusses it all....

When Lucy & Yak offered me the chance to mediate a conversation about Pride, brand campaigns and the future of Pride, I was really intrigued. In certain aspects, we ended up talking about things that I did expect, but others I was far more surprised about.

One of the clearest points to be raised was that the words and terms we use in the community are not mutually exclusive. This centred around the term Queer, which for me sits very happily in the LGBTQ+ acronym. It's important to understand the history of the term, which up until the late 19th century only meant odd or strange. After that, it was used to other the experience of the LGBTQ+ community and was used as a slur. It wasn't until as recently as the 1980s that queer was taken back by the community as a politically provocative stance on who we were. Thus queer became our term, and it planted the conversation squarely back in our hands.

As with many experiences, individual journeys are important. Queer to me signifies that I am not heterosexual, nor am I cisgender, it feels undefined and fluid; this, of course, is not a definitive answer. For many others, queer represents years of trauma, and its usage on a T-shirt was triggering and disrespectful. It is very important that we never overlook the suffering of others, and ensure all experiences are represented.

"Obviously the term queer is not as welcome for a lot of people in the community, and that should be appreciated too, however, I don't think not selling it would be appropriate as it would take away the representation it gave people such as myself." @_lauraexplorer

I want to be as candid as I can with you, I was very surprised by this conversation. I will admit that I saw no issues in the term being used, nor sold. I assumed the product wouldn't be bought by cis-gendered heterosexual people, but if it was this would be a signal of solidarity, a creation of allyship. This assumption was wrong, and in some ways erased the struggle of others. However, one commenter made me see very clearly the dichotomy of this word, and in essence, the community as a whole; and that is some people like it, and some don't. We cannot please everyone, and to try is futile, we can always listen, and this is key.

Allyship is so key to the community, and it is important that the role of an ally is one of adaptation and admitting when they make mistakes. Allies need to be open to learning and understanding the constant evolution of the community, listening to us, and not speaking over us.

I will be clear on one thing - no one person in the community has all the answers, and thus, we cannot be gatekeepers of who can and cannot use terms. Nor can we stipulate what people wear. We can certainly debate it, and I encourage this to be done freely, but in the case of the term queer, it is very much an individual thing.

One thing that there was an agreed consensus on, was the right and wrong ways that brands can show support for the LGBTQ+ community during Pride season. It is sadly still the case that many brands see Pride as a rainbow tick box that must be checked this time of year. I won't name names, but I am sure that you will have heard of brands making tokenistic offerings to the community under the guise of unity, without actually making any change.

Rainbow washing is a clear example of the commodification of the community, with brands having rainbow branding for the 30 days of June, and as soon as July 1st rolls around, it is all back to "˜normal"™. This has been worse this year, with brands approaching heterosexual cis-gender influencers to sell their pride merchandise, which in my opinion is unacceptable.

"I think it can be pretty meaningless when large brands do pride collections where they don’t donate any money to LGBTQ charities, and sometimes even produce these collections in countries such as Bangladesh where homosexuality is illegal.” @twoonty

There were a few discussions that perhaps brands have no right to create campaigns for pride, but it's important to say that it is necessary. Done correctly, Pride campaigns do three things. Firstly they ensure Lucy&Yak Pride Blog that the legacy we have inherited is not lost, never lose sight that the first Pride was a violent riot started by queer POC and black trans folx, this was a push back against the brutal treatment by the police. Secondly, they allow important and progressive conversations to take place, which doesn't happen on larger platforms ordinarily. Thirdly, they offer representation, that many in the community have never had. I struggled with my identity growing up; had I seen a campaign such as the one created by the team at Lucy and Yak, it may have made my journey to self-realisation that little bit easier.

Of course, this must also be matched with support to charities and organisations. Many brands get this wrong, or suggest a donation, without telling customers how much is actually going back to make a difference. Big brands, your move!

When we see campaigns that fall short of what we expect in 2020, I have this simple advice, vote with your money, and don't support brands that don't meet your expectations. Shop with smaller brands that are doing it right. Brands love to appear open and honest, but in reality, the bottom line will always be the income they make from campaigns. If they are unsupported, this time next year they will either change their approach or not run a campaign, which will leave space for the brands who are prepared to do things well.

We are all aware that Pride has taken a different role this year, with the nation and world celebrating the unique and wonderful nature of being ourselves from home. Yet for some, it has always been this way as previous Pride events have not been fully accessible, safe or even welcoming. One conversation thread focused on the experience of someone with Autism, they pointed out that Pride has a long way to go to be fully intersectional. (Intersectionality is a term coined by black layer and feminist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw if you want to know more watch this 60-second video CBQB5jtlhs8/ ).

"Most companies selling pride merch don't feel very inclusive or caring, my straight friends going to pride in LDN as if it's a party not even with any LGBT friends doesn't feel inclusive, when I have gone it has been predominantly very white. I'm autistic and pride doesn't feel very accessible, and overall it has a long way to go to be intersectional." @spiced_chai_

I agree that Pride™¸ is not the most inclusive, and years past has never included the whole community. This is where I feel that COVID-19 has had a small POSITIVE impact because it cancelled the parades, the floats sponsored by corporate brands, and the drinks deals. This year Pride has gone back to its roots. We are in the midst of a government-led erosion and erasure of Transgender rights, the Black Lives Matter movement has never been more necessary. Pride has this year paved the way to actual change and has leaned into its rich history of personal sacrifice and change being fought for.

For all the damage and disruption this virus has caused, I hope the change it has made to the way we celebrate Pride will create a legacy of renewed activism that lives far beyond the impact of the pandemic. I'm talking about inclusivity, prioritisation of voices that society maligns, more protests, and long-lasting change that represents all that makes the LGBTQ+ wonderful, and not just the thin white heteronormative party pieces we have been offered in the past.

What is clear from the points raised here, and in the comments section, is that Pride still has a long way to go to continue to honour the pioneers, to include the whole community and to ensure the longevity of this legacy. What is clear, and made blindingly so in this exercise, is that to do this, we have to continue to discuss and debate these issues, and fight for real and actual change in and for the community.

To see the full discussion, and more opinions head to the post here. It is a great tool of education to absorb varying experiences and understanding and can improve many peoples true understanding of everyone in the community. I want to thank everyone who got involved, and I appreciate you sharing your experiences and your words with myself and Lucy&Yak.

Additional note and next steps;

Hey, Lucy & Yak here!

We wanted to jump on the end of the blog to talk about our actions beyond Pride month and the changes we have made from your feedback on our artist collaboration mini collection celebrating Pride. After the discussion that we have had on the use of the word Queer, we have updated our product listing of the 'Cute Queers Club' tee to include more information on the context on the history and reclamation of the word “queer”.

Thank you to everyone who shared your opinions and thoughts with us – we appreciate you investing your time and emotional labour in willing to share this with us.

We also wanted to share a number of our commitments to empower and support the LGBTQIA+ community beyond Pride month.

  • We will continue to collaborate and champion the work of LGBTQIA+ artists and creatives
  • We will continue to work with LGBTQIA+ models in our photoshoots
  • Continued commitment to work with LGBTQIA+ influencers and profiles
  • We are also putting together a SIDE board - an advisory panel to the company on Sustainability, Inclusivity, Diversity and Ethic to include members and intersections of the LGBTQIA+ community to advise on activity, campaigns and products (all paid positions).
  • Events to promote LGBTQIA+ allyship and community to be planned throughout the year for in the Brighton shop (such as a pronoun pin workshop which sadly got postponed due to lockdown but will be reorganised!)
  • Support with local grassroot activity to support the LGBTQIA+ community in our locations (such as the Brighton Trans Vigil which is being reorganised
  • Events to promote LGBTQIA+ allyship and community to be planned throughout the year for in the Brighton shop
  • Support with local grassroot activity to support the LGBTQIA+ community in our locations (such as the Brighton Trans Vigil that took place on 4th July 2020)
  • We will continue to amplify the voices of marginalised people within the LGBTQIA+ community
  • 100% of the sale price from the Wednesday Holmes artist collaboration will be split between their chosen charity The Outside Project charity and the following charities as nominated by our models; Mermaids, Naz and Matt Foundation, Exist Loudly Fund, Eon Youth Center, Books Beyond Bars and Youth UK
  • 10% of the sale price of the Rainbow Addisons trouser to be donated to Nai Bhor Sanstha - a community-based organization working for the rights, development and social protection of LGBTQIA+ community, based in Rajasthan, India.
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