How Brands Should (Authentically) Engage with Pride

June is here, which means queer folks are preparing themselves for what is to come in Pride Month. (And no, I’m not talking about upping their workout routines for that #SummerBod.) Every year, hordes of major brands, everything from Target to high price-tag luxury brands like Gucci will throw their hats in the ring for the queer (and straight) dollar—releasing collections, initiatives, and statements about how much they love and support queer people. However, in my opinion, the queer community is failed time and time again by brands who inauthentically attempt to engage with us during this month.

What does Pride Month inauthenticity look like?

From throwing rainbows, #YasQueen, or “Ally” on everything from accessories to even dog sweaters, queer Gen Zers like myself would rather start off a conversation this month with how companies internally treat queer employees. Is corporate allowing policies, associates, or their partners to actively disempower those whose wallets they are supposedly targeting? Is there queer leadership present in their Pride representation?

Don’t get me wrong—do I have multiple pairs of previous Pride collection shoes, a windbreaker, and even a few t-shirts sitting in my closet right now? You bet I do! But when it seems like brands don’t actually care about the queer community, inclusion, or equity for all, releasing Pride collections, statements, or even partnerships is not only tone-deaf, but actively harmful.

It’s me!

We are being tricked into the story of rainbow capitalism, being sold “we love you and support you”, when in boardrooms and shareholder meetings, that is not the discussion whatsoever. And Gen Z is more than ready to call out rainbow-washing.

I’m sorry, but who thought it would be a good idea for a company like Capital One to throw rainbows on their bank windows this year when the banking and lending industries still actively discriminate against queer people?

How can companies authentically show up for the queer community?

I would personally love to see a company that spent millions of dollars to sponsor a Pride march float and get their employees merch redirect and redistribute that money. Whether it went to LGBTQIAP+ community centers, HIV/AIDS testing support, or queer housing initiatives for LGBTQIAP+ youth, who make up almost half of all homeless youth, it would be money better spent. Or, if they were so set on releasing a Pride month collection, why not donate a major portion of those proceeds back to the communities they’re profiting from while also ensuring queer representation in everything from high level decision making to marketing? This is not even step one.

Brands and companies, before they commit to any external work, need to clean up their acts in-house. How do they handle discrimination against their queer employees? Do they partner with other corporations that haven’t cleaned up their shops? What does support look like for “non-traditional” parental leave, whether adoption or surrogacy? Do they even ask associates to include their pronouns in email signatures? It is small things like this that matter a hell of a lot more to queer people than being able to buy a backpack with a rainbow on it.

What does the future of the queer community look like?

These demands are not going anywhere. With 1 in 6 Gen Z adults identifying under the queer umbrella, it is not long before these ideas will enter the mainstream (which, in some part, they already have). I do not think it is radical to ask for companies and brands to put their money or their policies where their mouth is – because some brands already have, and are even founded upon these principles. The PHLUID Project, a genderless fashion brand, partnered with us to launch the #QueerAnd campaign, where we were able to uplift diverse, queer, young people’s voices in an actually authentic and impactful way for the world to see. It is never too late to learn about and pay homage to Pride’s roots, in celebrating intersectionality, direct action, and abolition.

One of my favorite videos from the campaign!

So, for all you shoppers out there this month, I ask you: please be intentional, do your research, and be an active ally. It’s unrealistic for me (and for all of us) to think that we should never splurge on that cute tank top we need for Hot They/Them Summer. But, if we support brands and companies that have a record of caring for the queer community authentically, we can show brands that don’t that equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging (EDI&B) are not just preferences when we are selecting brands that will get our coin, they are necessities.