Beyond Performative Rainbows: How Businesses Can Support the LGBTQ+ Community for (and with) Pride

By | June 4, 2021

Celebrated since the 1970s to honor those involved in the Stonewall Riots of June 1969, June is officially recognized as Pride Month—a monthlong promotion of love, self-expression and the continued push for equality. Parades, festivals and concerts celebrating the LGBTQ+ community now span across the globe; however, as Pride Month becomes more widely celebrated, in recent years, we’ve begun to witness a rise in performative support.

This looks like companies that wave their rainbow flag only during Pride Month, filling their shelves with rainbow-clouted products and promptly wiping their prismatic logos clean come July 1 without truly bettering anything besides their own bottom line. However well-intentioned, painting rainbows on your marketing materials and social channels does not support the LGBTQ+ community. Because despite years of temporary rainbow logos, many LGBTQ people continue to face discrimination in their personal lives, in the workplace, the public sphere and in their access to critical health care, according to a 2020 survey by the Center for American Progress. Brands looking to support Pride need to dive deeper and earnestly consider what the LGBTQ+ community needs and not just what their board wants to see. 

In April 2021, Q.Digital, the largest LGBTQ+ media company in the U.S., surveyed nearly 1,000 of its LGBTQ+ readers concerning their attitudes about brands that create products for Pride. If a company has a Pride/LGBTQ-inspired product, the top three most important things readers felt the company should also do were:

  1. Have strong pro-LGBTQ+ internal policies
  2. Contribute to an LGBTQ+ charity or nonprofit
  3. Advertise in LGBTQ+ media

So what does it look like when a company celebrates Pride with authenticity? 

Athletic Brewing Company, the leading brewer of craft beers that just happen to be nonalcoholic, has partnered with a world-renowned LGBTQ+ climber Alex Johnson to release a limited-edition Pride Month brew. Rainbow Wall is a slightly hazy Blood Orange IPA fittingly named after an iconic mountain face called the Rainbow Wall at Red Rocks in Nevada, a favorite climb of Johnson’s. Athletic Brewing is donating all net profits from Rainbow Wall to Athlete Ally, a national nonprofit LGBTQ+ advocacy group focused on creating safe spaces within sports for the LGBTQ+ community and helping athletes to advocate for LGBTQ+ equality. 

However, this isn’t the first time the young company cooked up a custom brew to help serve groups typically sidelined from craft beer. In 2021 alone Athletic Brewing created Soul Sour, which was inspired by two team members in honor of Black History Month (February), and Trailblazer to mark Women’s History Month (March) and uplift women in brewing. The company donates 3% of all sales to various charitable causes focused on creating access and breaking down barriers. Supporting communities is blended into Athletic Brewing’s culture, which explains why its limited-edition brews have been so successful.

“When doing something like a Pride product, it’s really important that brands commit budget behind their efforts,” Alex Showerman, a queer trans woman and Athletic Brewing’s director of JEDI and nonprofit partnerships explained. “The amount of LGBTQ+ participation in your campaign or product is going to be a reflection of your investment. If you’re willing to invest the time and money to genuinely help in the ways the LGBTQ+ community needs support, the doors will open.”  

Another brand that’s built a give-back component into the company’s DNA is sustainable bamboo toothbrush company, MamaP, which offers its rainbow-bristled LGBTQ+ Equality Bamboo Toothbrush year-round. For each toothbrush from the rainbow line sold, 5% of proceeds go toward The Trevor Project, an organization that serves and supports the mental health of diverse LGBTQ+ youth. MamaP also has brushes that benefit Black Lives Matter, Ocean Conservation, Mental Health, Womxn’s Rights and saving those precious bees.

“During Pride Month, people jump on the bandwagon, but [the LGBTQ+ community] wants to see more LGTBQ+ individuals and families represented all year long. That shows true inclusivity,” said Gena Jaffe, a member of the LGBTQ+ community and founder of connecting rainbows, a new database that provides a list of legal and fertility experts across the U.S. and Canada who are vetted and will approach their work with kindness, compassion and advocacy. As a lawyer who personally evaluates each company listed on connecting rainbows to ensure LGBTQ+ are not discriminated against, Jaffe has gained more than a few insights into what authentic support of the LGBTQ+ community looks like.

“If your business uses forms to collect information, please ask for pronouns. When it comes to wedding documents, don’t require people [to] fill in the blanks for husband/wife. When it comes to employees, encourage adding pronouns to email signatures and provide an anonymous comment or concern box for HR,” Jaffe recommended. “We aren’t asking for anything crazy or innovative; just to be acknowledged and treated the same as everyone else.”

In 2020, Glassdoor allowed users to voluntarily share their demographic information, allowing LGBTQ+ employees (as well as other groups like race and gender) to see how companies are rated by specific demographics. The data was analyzed in May 2021, and the findings show LGBTQ+ employees are overall less satisfied at work; most notably, LGBTQ+ employees are less satisfied with the company’s senior leadership, career opportunities, and compensation and benefits when compared with non-LGBTQ+ employees. As Jaffe suggests, companies should take a look at their practices internally and examine how they can create safer spaces for their LGBTQ+ employees. 

One company proactively addressing such gaps is Datasite, a SaaS provider that powers 20% of mergers and acquisitions deals globally, which created its Datasite Diversity and Inclusion Council in 2020. Comprised of employees from all regions and functions within the company, the Datasite Diversity and Inclusion Council aims to provide meaningful programs, educational resources and awareness to help all employees, regardless of their background or demographic, feel connected and seen. 

In the past year the council spearheaded quarterly diversity events and provided digital resources sharing diverse cultures and perspectives surrounding Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and is focusing its efforts on Pride Month for June. Working alongside datasite chief product officer Thomas Fredell, the council is celebrating Pride Month on June 10 with a virtual, internal event for all 850 employees. The event will feature an hourlong discussion around tolerance, inclusion and bringing your authentic self to work with Esera Tuaolo, former NFL football player and author of Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL—showing that corporations can honor Pride and be an ally in more ways than we often think.

As we strut into Pride Month 2021, consumers can also help the cause by shopping more intentionally and backing the brands and individuals who are putting real resources (read: money) where their rainbows are, and pouring tangible support into the LGBTQ+ Community. Buy your Pride gear from LGBTQ-owned brands or perhaps some of the companies listed below, which is just a sampling of brands that have committed to spreading equity to the organizations doing big work for and with the LGBTQ+ community. 

You can purchase Rainbow Wall ($12.99 per six-pack) on AthleticBrewing.com through the month of June. Athletic Brewing projects a $20,000 donation to Athlete Ally from the collaboration, which will be used to create a coach’s symposium this fall that will train coaches on how to create safe spaces for youth, high school and college athletes to feel safe coming out in.

MamaP Bamboo Toothbrushes

The LGBTQ+ Equality Bamboo Toothbrush ($8), as well as the Equality Kids Bamboo Toothbrush ($8), is available at MamaP.life and in the MamaP storefront on Amazon, and benefits the Trevor Project year-round.

From mid-May through June 30, 20% of net proceeds from the 1-800-Flowers.com Pride Bouquet ($64.99+) will benefit GLAAD as it works to accelerate acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community. Bouquets are delivered with a special card so recipients know their gift supported GLAAD, along with a limited edition “No Limits On Love” keepsake pin, while supplies last. 1-800-FLOWERS has donated over $200,000 to GLAAD since 2014, and also made a monetary donation of $25,000 to GLAAD prior to the campaign to further aid the LGBTQ+ community. 

The nation’s leader in sewing and crafting has partnered with GLSEN, a national non-profit organization that creates a safe and inclusive K-12 school environment for the LGBTQ+ youth. JOANN is donating $25,000 to GLSEN to and released a new Pride Month collection with more than 40 fabric and five creative project ideas with step-by-step directions for crafters to create their own Pride gear from home. JOANN is also donating some of the Pride products and $5,000 to the LGBTQ+ Center of Greater Cleveland, which is near JOANN’s headquarters.

The popular beach and surf footwear brand REEF has a longstanding partnership with PFLAG National, the nation’s first and largest organization for LGBTQ+ people, their parents, families, and allies. This June, REEF has released its third limited-edition collection of Pride-inspired footwear in honor of Pride Month, featuring a symbolic rainbow design on men’s and women’s style sandals ($45 each), and will donate 50% of the proceeds through Reef.com to support PFLAG’s commitment to advancing equality through its three pillars: support, education and advocacy.  

JanSport is donating $1 for every product sold on JanSport.com in June 2021 to The Trevor Project, which marks the second year in a row JanSport has launched this initiative. JanSport has a long-term corporate partnership with The Trevor Project and will continue to support their mission of assisting the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth.

A proud ally of the LGBTQ+ community, Crystal Head has long committed to using its platform as a tool to educate and support, not only from its limited-edition Pride bottle (SRP of $49.99+) profits, but through continuous, yearround global efforts with partners including Stonewall Sports ProgramThe Test Positive Awareness NetworkKaleidoscope Trust, and Lurie Children’s Hospital Transgender Youth Program, to name a few. The company also created Pride-inspired cocktail recipes for you to make (and drink responsibly) on your own.

Known for its thoughtfully designed jewelry that allows you to express your creativity, Maison Miru will donate 10% of June sales from its Rainbow Collection ($39.00+) to QUEER|ART, a nonprofit founded in 2009 to assist a generation of LGBTQ+ artists that lost mentors to the AIDS Crisis of the 1980s. QUEER|ART provides three major areas of support: Practice (creative and professional development), Presents (events, exhibitions and other public presentations), and Awards (residencies, grants and prizes) for artists in the creative practices of film, performance, visual art and literature. 

Teneral Cellars operates with empathy and proudly declares its wine stands with confidence and says, “We can enable change, together.” Founded in 2020, Teneral Cellars created Love Is Love—History of Pride collection as its second release, which includes a Loud and Proud Merlot, Overflowing With Pride Barbera and Uprising Chenin Blanc. $10 from every Love Is Love three-pack purchased will be donated to The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative to help identify entertainment venues, food and beverage locations, stores, businesses and other public venues as safe spaces for LGBTQ+ members of the community. The Love Is Love collection ($96) is available now through Aug 15. at TeneralCellars.com.

As part of Johnson & Johnson’s 10-year Care With Pride initiative to openly champion love, equity and care for all people within the LGBTQ+ community, Neutrogena, Clean & Clear, Listerine, OGX and Exuviance will feature exclusive Care With Pride bottles, like the consumer favorites, Clean & Clear Morning Burst Facial Cleanser and Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit. For every Care With Pride product purchased throughout June, J&J will donate $1 to Family Equality, an organization that aims to advance legal and lived equality for LGBTQ+ families through building community, changing hearts and minds and driving policy change. These products will be available at select retail partners: Target, Amazon, Walgreens, Ulta, Kroger, Wakefern, Ahold, Nordstrom Rack, Rite-Aid, Hannaford, Harris Teeter, Pharmapacks.

Featured photo by AlessandroBiascioli/Shutterstock; image photos courtesy of included brands

Megan Nicole O’Neal is a writer with a passion for storytelling, traveling and whenever possible, mixing the two. The UCLA alum lives in Los Angeles; more specifically westside coffee shops with equally strong wifi and dark roasts. Connect with Megan on Twitter at @megan_n_onealor her website mnoneal.com.

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