During Pride Month, queer narratives tend to be commercialised by some brands who do not engage with the LGBTQIA+ community throughout the rest of the year. We ask queer creators how they are leveraged, how brands indulge in tokenism, and the way to authentic inclusiveness
Campaigns and initiatives which go beyond the month of June, and are inclusive all year-round are critical for brands to be inclusive, Photo courtesy: Tinder, Mani Saxena (centre), Deep Pathare (right)
Pride marches and celebrations take place across the globe during the month of June. With growing conversation, grows interest, and with interest, grows the possibility of minting money in our capitalist society. In the past few years, more and more brands have started launching a range of pride campaigns and claiming to be allies. “Pride month acts as a magnet for symbolic support for the LGBTQIA+ community. However, rather than making any actual impact, it mostly falls in the bracket of rainbow washing. The list of brands backing actual causes with visible support is – unfortunately – very short,” says Mani Saxena, publicist at Edelman India. “As someone who is queer and a part of the marketing machinery, I see right through a Pride menu or a Pride collection, every time I step out during June.”
Mani Saxena, is a New Delhi-based publicist who sees through the rainbow washing many brands indulge in. Photo courtesy: Mani Saxena
It takes more than a rainbow-themed logo or social media posts to be an ally of the LGBTQIA+ community. Consumers aren’t fooled by brands who try to leverage queer creators to seem woke or gain social capital. “With the scarcity of openly queer creators, brands try to squeeze as much ‘queer content’ as possible during Pride month. From reaching out to creators only during Pride to not paying creators, brands will send a list of specifics that is so obviously tokenistic, it’s unnerving,” shares beauty content creator Deep Pathare.
The Mumbai native has been creating content for the past three years and has had brands approach him with emails stating ‘we believe in love is love, and we want to support the LGBT community but we don’t have the budget to support’. When asked how he recognises whether a brand’s collaboration proposals are aimed at capitalising on queer labour during Pride Month, Pathare says: “When the brand is approaching me for the first time with the above mentioned quotes, and variations of them. They don’t want to pay, they want specific words or phrases to be spoken out loud in the content, and they run ads on the token content without asking for permission or paying for the ad content. Especially emails with subjects like Deep X Pride month.”
It is critical to have brands further the conversation, and challenge norms during Pride Month, but it cannot just be during a single month, and by using queer creators as a marketing ploy. “For a month, all of a sudden, brands want to be ‘woke and politically correct’ and ‘up with the times’ but will disappear immediately after June is over. In my honest opinion, it makes us queer creators feel like trophies on the forefront for a month. Like ‘dish of the week’ in a restaurant. It is blatant tokenism and biased representation. It is also unethical representation in the mainstream media,” explains Pathare.
Deep Pathare is a 24-year-old content creator from Mumbai, who has been a prominent voice in the beauty space. Photo courtesy: Deep Pathare
Speaking of counter-strategies he developed, the creator shares, “Since I’ve joined my agency, we’ve made changes to my commercials for brands who only reach out during June. A little ‘Pride interest’, if you will. We hike up all rates and make sure to sign an MOU for brands for long-term collaborations. I would also like to add, on one hand while brands milk the rainbow money, as creators, we also make the most money during Pride. So June is like a double-edged sword. Do we be true to the community or sell our souls and make that money? I still don’t have a very clear answer on that. As creators, I feel, we can also hold brands accountable and call out, in private if not publicly, those who only reach out for their bite of the queer cake.”
Support for the LGBTQIA+ community has to go beyond a one-off campaign, where brands formulate strategies whereas authentic representation is a year-round commitment.
While most advertising and communication around the LGBTQIA+ community seems to be lacking nuance, it could be the case of lack of diversity in the teams who produce this content, which ends up catering to the cis-heteronormative palate. Marketing today influences public opinion and popular culture, which is why the need to go deeper is as glaring as ever.
Very few have succeeded in launching initiatives that aim at being truly inclusive. Popular dating app Tinder has been one of those rare entities. “Inclusivity and acceptance are core values at Tinder and drive all our efforts. Everyone is welcome on Tinder, and this gives them the freedom to make authentic connections based on who they are and what they want. We have consistently taken strides towards creating a better experience by expanding gender identities, and introduced sexual orientation and now the application has 50 plus genders and nine sexual orientations for members on the app. Tinder is also the only dating app to have a safety feature called Traveler’s Alert created for the LGBTQIA+ community in partnership with ILGA World. It is a product feature designed to protect and inform members of the community from the inherent risk of using dating apps in countries that still have discriminatory laws effectively criminalising LGBTQIA+ status,” shares Taru Kapoor, GM, Tinder and Match Group, India.
Tinder recently partnered with Gaysi Family to organise a queer mixer in Mumbai. Photo courtesy: Tinder
Through meaningful consistent engagement and initiatives, a brand like Tinder, which is a significant part of the queer dating experience across the globe, pushes the needle forward in terms of inclusiveness and provides community members a safe space to be their authentic selves. Elaborating on initiatives undertaken by Tinder over the past few years, Kapoor adds, “Tinder has supported the LGBTQIA+ community by including queer narratives across campaigns, content, and stories all year round. We are increasingly working with groups like Gaysi Family in India- to run in-app and social campaigns, passing the mic to organisations to help them fight misconceptions these communities face and cultivate acceptance among Tinder’s vast audiences both in-app and online. In 2020, we launched The Museum of Queer Swipe Stories in partnership with Gaysi Family that captures the many moods and complexities of queer dating in India. Last year, we also introduced ‘Queer Made’ in partnership with Little Black Book and Gaysi Family to provide a space dedicated to celebrating, supporting and amplifying businesses and products made, owned or run by India’s LGBTQIA+ community. Encouraging self-expression and being loud and proud of one’s identity, we recently released a limited-edition ‘All of a kind’ capsule collection of 10 sneakers with FILA, hand illustrated by artists across India, highlighting the theme of identity, authenticity and diversity. We recently launched Tinder Mixers for singles - exclusive curated IRL events for singles and partnered with Gaysi Family to organise a queer mixer in Mumbai.”
When asked how brands can become allies, and do better, 26-year-old Saxena concludes, “Brands think their idea of inclusion and diversity is temporal topline support, however, it would be refreshing to see members of the community co-opted into these campaigns to influence actual change - all year long for the community to feel seen, heard and understood. ‘Brand do’ is just as important as ‘brand say’. The right way to do things this Pride by businesses is to be authentic and purposeful in their outreach. Embrace the diversity of the queer community and use your communications to amplify LGBTQIA+ needs, voices, struggles, and resilience to make a real change.”