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| Jun 15, 2022

Leading During LGBTQ+ Pride Month Requires Listening

Creating an environment that cares about inclusivity shouldn't be limited to annual celebrations; it needs to be happening year-round.

As legend has it, Marsha P. Johnson, a Black drag queen, threw a brick at a police officer outside the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969. Riots ensued: the police barricaded themselves within the Stonewall Inn, the bar was set on fire, and parking meters were used as battering rams. 

A year later, the first Pride Parades took place around the country. 

If you get into the weeds of who threw the first brick or whether bricks were even thrown at the Stonewall riots, you might find yourself searching an Internet rabbit hole of memes, sarcasm, and confusion. Even the term “uprising” vs. “riot” or “rebellion” is up for debate. Never mind that the more important questions, including who killed Marsha P. Johnson, still lead the LGBTQ+ community to dead ends. 

Filling in the blank spaces of what Pride is and means to the LGBTQ+ community, let alone the entire country, is a minefield. But there is one thing that most people within the LGBTQ+ community can agree on: we don’t want corporations doing it for us. If you’re a leader who wants to celebrate Pride within your team or organization, you need to listen to the LGBTQ+ people around you. Pride means different things year after year, and the nuances and needs of the LGBTQ+ community are continually evolving. Leading the charge during LGBTQ+ pride month requires listening to those directly affected.

Pride Is Always Changing

In 2019, I waited in line to walk beside an IT company’s float in the Austin Pride Parade. As I sweated in the heat, I counted the number of rainbow flags devoid of the recently-added Black and Brown stripes. It was easier to count the number of flags that were updated: one. 

The inclusion of these stripes had been a heated but prevalent debate in the LGBTQ+ community over the past two years. Were the companies who bought spaces at the Austin Pride Parade purposefully leaving out the versions of the flag that paid homage to the Black and Brown leaders of the Pride movement? Or had these companies simply missed the memo?

Pride flags have undergone several different iterations before and since the Black and Brown stripes were added. I understand that the addition of new vocabulary and symbols can be dizzying but to those who keep up with the lexicon (i.e., LGBTQ+ people), updating the language and symbols used to celebrate Pride is the least leaders can do to show support. 

Just as our language continues to evolve, what Pride needs to do will change as well — whether it be a celebration, a time of reflection, or a protest. In 2022, after 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have already been introduced, the inclusion of transgender and gender-nonconforming people could not be more urgent. If your pride celebrations fail to consider intersectional identities, gender identity, and the “T” in LGBTQ+ — you’re behind. And the LGBTQ+ members and allies in your organization will notice. 

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Not Everyone Will Agree, But Everyone Should Communicate 

The legislative attacks on LGBTQ+ people are primarily targeting transgender children. This can put some Pride organizers in a tricky spot. Although corporate Pride celebrations are often “family-friendly,” many arguments can be made that these celebrations shouldn’t have to be family-friendly

If you are a straight ally feeling conflicted about how to proceed with Pride celebrations, this is a good sign to recruit some help. Have you had conversations with LGBTQ+ members of your team or community? Is there a Pride group led by LGBTQ+ members in your organization? Have you looked to other organizations for examples? How can you partner with DEI experts within and outside your organization to set up these spaces for LGBTQ+ team members?

If you’ve done none of these things but still claim to want to celebrate pride, don’t be surprised when your LGBTQ+ team members find the sentiment hollow. When none of your queer employees are excited about your desire to celebrate that may be a sign to look further into your diversity and inclusion strategies. 

Not everyone will agree, but I can guarantee that someone in these conversations will learn something new that is useful while celebrating Pride and honoring the LGBTQ+ community. 

What To Consider When Planning Pride Events: 

Is It Benefitting the LGBTQ+ Community? 

With the rise in criticisms over “corporate pride” and “rainbow capitalism,” corporations and large organizations are under a microscope. This year, take a step back and ask where the money, resources, and benefits of your Pride celebrations are going. Will members of the LGBTQ+ community benefit through a donation to a local organization or the support of an LGBTQIA-owned business? How will your efforts enact positive change? A Pride float with a corporate logo slapped on does little to reverse anti-trans laws, house homeless LGBTQ+ youth, or close the LGBTQ+ pay gap. Pride events can be a celebration, but the LGBTQ+ community sees no reason to celebrate a large organization making a profit and continuing to support the status quo.

Are LGBTQ+ Voices Centered?

Who is the face of your Pride month events? A leader in your organization who is a straight ally who has just taken a crash course on the letters included in LGBTQ+, or a community member who can speak to the importance of Pride and your organization’s contribution to it? Everyone wants to learn and share this month, but education on LGBTQ+ issues best comes from the people who are directly affected.

Is it a One-Time Tactic? 

If reaching out to an LGBTQ+ member of your organization just for Pride Month feels performative, it is. Attacks on the LGBTQ+ community are taking place year-round, so your company’s support of the LGBTQ+ community should also be year-round. Even if you conduct no outward-facing initiatives this Pride Month, consider putting a strategy into place that centers and benefits the LGBTQ+ community constantly. And if you are consistently helping the LGBTQ+ community, Pride Month is the perfect time to celebrate your efforts. 

With a spotlight on the vapid efforts of “corporate pride,” organizations are not getting away with a simple rainbow logo or float in the local Pride Parade. Be authentic, be humble, and be aware that for the LGBTQ+ members of your team, Pride is constant.

Megan Okonsky
Contributor

Opinion Contributor, Strixus

Megan Okonsky is a copywriter and ghostwriter based in Austin, Texas. After graduating from Temple University in 2015, she created a travel blog and began work as a junior copywriter. view profile

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