Tag Archives: LGBTQ+

Rainbow washing: what should we think when every brand seems to support Pride Month?

With Pride Month becoming increasingly commercialised, Dr Olivier Sibai, Lecturer in Marketing at Birkbeck, University of London, Dr Mimoun, Lecturer in Marketing at the Business School (formerly Cass), and Dr Achilleas Boukis, Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Sussex discuss how brands are engaging with the month of celebration.

A zoom in on some people's feet with rainbow colours on them

Image credit: Angela Compagnone

It’s June again, the first heatwave has arrived, flowers are blooming, and more and more rainbow avatars appear on your social media feeds! Yes, it’s Pride Month again and brands won’t let you forget it! As everyone celebrates Pride, brands won’t stop showing their surface-level love and support to position themselves as socially progressive and increase their resonance with their younger audience.  From brands’ rainbow LinkedIn profile picture to Google Doodles, every brand and its neighbor are jumping on the occasion to demonstrate their virtue. Yet, people are not so easily fooled and criticism abounds! Between accusations of rainbow-washing, blog posts wondering whether we can escape the commercialisation of Pride, and lists of brand’s “Pride fails,” consumers show their disapproval vocally.

a screen shot of a Disney post showing disney characters walking across a rainbow 'Pride Flag' backgroundOur research recently published in Psychology and Marketing uncovers how consumers interpret brands’ LGBTQ+-related support and decide on whether to condemn or to approve them. We show that consumers are more likely to condemn brands as ‘woke-washers’ if they are unable to prove morally competent. Specifically, media and consumers make up their minds on the biggest corporates by assessing such performative acts of allyship through three moral criteria: sensitivity, vision, and integration.

Moral sensitivity — a brand must recognize the moral content of a situation as failure to do so is likely to damage customer satisfaction, customer-brand relations, and brand equity. For example, by posting straight characters walking over the rainbow flag, Disney has proved morally insensitive to the stigma and discrimination that LGBTQ+ individualsThe Uno game packaging with the tag line 'Play with Pride' on the cover are still experiencing in many instances.

Moral vision — a brand must show a clear moral vision when outlining challenges to free speech that help solve problems for markets and society as failure to do so results in brands being dubbed as ‘conformists’ — those who reproduce the dominant moral judgments about what is acceptable to say publicly. While Mattel still shows a lack of moral vision by mostly reproducing mainstream discourses around gender and diversity, it at least shows some moral integration with the launch of gender-neutral Barbie dolls in 2019 followed by the launch of the UNO Play with Pride edition this year (alongside $50,000 donated to the It Gets Better Project).

A screenshot of a Pfizer Inc. Instagram post with a video still of a woman called Valentina, and 'she/her/hers. The caption reads: "We're celebrating #PrideMonth2021 because everyone deserves to be seen, heard, and respected for who they are. At Pfizer, we affirm every way people may choose to identify. Watch what it means to be Pfizer and proud."

The caption reads: “We’re celebrating #PrideMonth2021 because everyone deserves to be seen, heard, and respected for who they are. At Pfizer, we affirm every way people may choose to identify. Watch what it means to be Pfizer and proud.”

Moral integration — a brand must have the ability to pursue their moral beliefs in all situations as failure to do so results in brands being dubbed as ‘opportunists’ and ‘fame-seekers’ — manipulating the boundaries of free speech to serve personal interest rather than reform morality. For example, despite sharing the positive experience of its LGBTQ+ staff members, Pfizer demonstrates a lack of moral integration by simultaneously funding anti-gay politicians.

But let’s not despair, some brands have understood the point of Pride Month and, in doing so, further the fight for LGBTQ equity and inclusivity. For example, over the last few year (moral integration), Skittles celebrates Pride Month with a limited-edition Skittles Pride Packs (gray packaging and all gray candies) to emphasize the rainbow visual as a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community (moral sensitivity), alongside donation of $1 from each pack to GLAAD.

A black and white skittles packet. The tag line reads: 'During Pride only one rainbow maters #onerainbow."

A Skittles packet with the tag line: ‘During Pride only one rainbow matters #onerainbow

So has Pride Month just become another branded holiday? Well, it’s not for us to settle. But what we can tell you is how to judge the genuineness of branded communication: evaluate the brand’s moral sensitivity, vision, and integration. While we can condemn the over-commercialisation of Pride Month, the good news is that these branded discourses, whatever their values and intent, still raise awareness of the LGBTQ+ cause and normalize and legitimize its presence in public discourse.

Want to know more? ‘Authenticating Brand Activism: Negotiating the Boundaries of Free Speech to Make a Change’ by Dr Olivier Sibai, Lecturer in Marketing at Birkbeck, University of London, Dr Mimoun, Lecturer in Marketing at the Business School (formerly Cass), and Dr Achilleas Boukis, Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Sussex, is published in Psychology & Marketing.

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“My journey at Birkbeck as a trans person couldn’t have been easier”

BSc Geology student and Birkbeck Trans Students’ Officer Jayden Solitro describes the experience of coming out as transgender at school age and settling into university life at Birkbeck.

Jayden Solitro

I came out as transgender at 15-years-old on the day of my last GCSE exam. I stayed at the same school in sixth form, and when I came out to my teachers, they decided to have a “transition period” – no pun intended – in which they would call me a short-hand version of my name for a while, because they thought other students would be confused by the sudden change of my name.

To this day, I’m still speechless at the fact that my teachers were more concerned about the effect my gender identity would have had on other students.

As a transgender person, I have always felt disconnected to my gender identity due to society not acknowledging it or respecting it. Every day I feared being misgendered or being called my former name (deadnamed). After I spent two years in a small town in Surrey trying to make stubborn teenagers use the right name and pronouns, I was terrified to go to university, because I thought I would have to start my journey all over again. Luckily, I was wrong; as soon as I came to Birkbeck, I noticed that I was surrounded by respectful adults, and my journey couldn’t have been easier.

When I joined the Students’ Union in 2019 as the Trans Students’ Officer, the Supporting Transgender, Intersex and Gender Non-Binary Students policy was enforced, thanks to the collaboration of College and Union staff.

As soon as I changed my name on the Birkbeck online portal, my decision was immediately respected by all members of staff, which was such a refreshing experience after having to wait for weeks in hope that my teachers would stop deadnaming me in school.

As a fellow student, and not just the Trans Students’ Officer, I am passionate to make sure that transgender students feel safe at Birkbeck, and I would like to encourage you to read this new policy, as it is important for us to know our rights and that they are a way to make our experience as a student the best it can be.

Thanks to this policy, chances to be “deadnamed” on campus will be lowered, as students are now able to change their preferred name on My Birkbeck and receive a new student ID free of charge. As a Deed Poll is not required to do this, this is also accessible to international or EU students who can’t apply for a deed poll in the UK, like myself.

Further Information

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Queerantine Bookshelf

While the usual Pride parade may not be possible this year, we’re still keen to amplify LGBTQ experiences and lives. Golnoosh Nour, a Creative Writing Alumna, teacher and author of her most recent short story collection, ‘The Ministry of Guidanceshares her essential LGBTQ reading list.

Fiction: Three Queer Novels

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy: This is a book that beautifully depicts the fluidity of sexuality and desire. This novel was published in 2016, my prediction is that this book will become a classic for its mastery of plot, characterisation, and language, but also for its unapologetic portrayals of female desire, motherhood, and the nuclear family. Levy’s descriptions of lesbian desire and female bisexual desire are beatific. Also, Sofia Irina is one of my favourite protagonists. She is curious, clever, and bold – even though she thinks she is not bold, and she really is ‘pulsating with shifting sexualities’.

Guapa by Saleem Haddad: Another unputdownable novel with an adorable protagonist, Rasa. An Arab gay man who describes his beautiful but forbidden love for the closeted Taymour with the utmost sensitivity both in an imaginary Arab country and the United States. The book subtly debunks the myth that the West is a sanctuary for gay people. The novel also does so much more; it is an extremely nuanced account of being a Middle Eastern queer. While this book made me laugh out loud and cry several times, on the whole, I cherish it for its warmth and compassion. If books had hearts, I’d say Guapa has a heart of gold.

The Sluts by Dennis Cooper: I love this book for the exact opposite reason that I love Guapa; I’m intrigued by its depiction of brutality, cruelty, and hollowness that can accompany uninhibited sexual desires – in this case, homosexual men who enjoy being extremely violent and at times murderous to one another. But apart from these compelling depictions, this book is a work of literary genius in terms of narrative structure. It is a mystery that at the end of the day the reader needs to solve on their own – if they believe it needs to be solved at all. I did and I didn’t. I felt so overwhelmed by the ethereal and yet pungent quality of the prose that during the two days that it took me to finish it, I felt I was on some strange drugs. This was a drug that made me unable to read any other books for several weeks apart from the ones by Dennis Cooper.

(There are so many more amazing queer novels, including the enticing classic: The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, My Education by Susan Choi, Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez, London Triptych by Jonathan Kemp, and many more that the limitations of space don’t allow me to mention. The three I elaborated upon are the ones I discovered fairly recently in queerantine.)

Poetry

There is so much breathtaking contemporary poetry exploring queer desire: these are some of the collections I have been rereading during the lockdown: English Breakfast by Jay Bernard (a literary masterpiece that boldly explores race, gender, and sexuality, not often talked about as it’s probably ‘too queer’ for the UK poetry scene) Soho by Richard Scott (a queer bible), I Must Be Living Twice by Eileen Myles (funny and canocial), Rabbit by Sophie Robinson (deliciously readable, yet deep and sapphic), Selah by Keith Jarrett (a star Birkbeck alumni!), Muses and Bruises by Fran Lock (especially the poem Rag Town Girls do Poetry, also, Fran is another Birkbeck star…), and last but not least Insert [Boy] by Danez Smith (their first and in my not very humble opinion, strongest collection).

 

 

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