When I went to my first Pride parade back in 2006, a hairy-legged Dorothy Gale strutted up to me in her ruby heels and gave me a history lesson. After asking, “Why the Wizard of Oz for Pride?” the Chicago drag queen told me it was referential to the safety code gay men used when homsexual acts were illegal in the United States. Asking if someone was “friends with Dorothy” was a euphemism for discussing their sexual orientation and a means of identifying allies. A few cocktail swigs later, she and her stuffed Toto rejoined the parade and my celebrations carried on.
They don’t teach this stuff in school, or at least they didn’t when I was growing up. While my fourteen-year-old self knew that I wasn’t yet allowed to get legally married, I wasn’t aware that being LGBTQ+ used to be punishable by arrest, or worse, death. I had no idea that the first gay pride was not a parade but a march. An event that was accompanied not by retail but a riot.
Since the Stonewall Uprising in 1969 (today regarded as the first-ever Pride), things have seemingly gone from sepia to technicolor. Every June, brands around the world use this month as an opportunity to express their support for the gay community. Some do it oh-so-well, while others struggle to achieve something beyond the low-hanging fruit of selling yassss-qweeeen crop tops and branded rainbow flags.
I can’t wholeheartedly say that I think this is a bad thing. Whether we like it or not, to be recognized as a profitable consumer base is honestly a benchmark for minority progress in America, and furthermore, a symbol of growing economic power. That being said, when you pull back the velvet curtain and reveal each organization’s efforts, there’s a few notable factors that separate the true friends of Dorothy from the opportunists.
For instance, fair-weather allyship is all too common. If companies are going to support the Black community in February, women on March 8th and the gay community in June, what is your brand doing to show up for them when it isn’t content-calendar relevant?
And when creating that content, ask yourself whose hands are on the wheel. Let queer artists, writers and directors who live this experience tell you how it goes. A campaign, script, storyboard, product design, et cetera, should really have people who identify as part of our community giving their input. Believe me, we want to.
Finally, this is your opportunity to give meaning to merch. Even as the owner of a closetful of pun-ridden Pride gear, I know a brand can do a lot more than outfit the local festivities. Many donate the profits they earn from those sales to organizations that make a difference for the queer community. This is especially important for nonprofits that bolster its most disenfranchised members: trans and non-binary people of color. Let’s not forget that the Stonewall Uprising was predominantly led by those brave individuals. Today, they’re the ones most often left out of the conversation and violently harassed just for being themselves.
So this year, with virtual pride events happening all summer long and the ever-growing movement for Black lives charging forward, I have a hope. A hope that beyond seeing an influx of rainbow packaging and tired cliches, we see brand activism. A hope that acceptance comes in the form of allowing queer creatives to produce their own work, instead of solely being asked to consume it. More than anything, my hope is that while we sit around inside tapping our own pairs of slippers, we use it as a time of reflection. One that sparks action. One that inspires organizations to have fun with Pride and still get it right. So that one day—hopefully in the near future—LGBTQ+ people of all colors can look around our country and mean it when they say, “There’s no place like home.”
Danny Robinson is a Copywriter at Karma who echos and evolves the voice of clients across higher education, finance and retail—with a passion for equality and queer culture fueling his own.