Josh Green
Jun 17, 2024

Pride marketing: Even the smallest acknowledgement can have the biggest impact

Brand support for the LGBTQ+ community in a continuous capacity can be a lifeline for individuals, says the chair of the Media Federation of Australia’s (MFA) diversity, equity, and inclusion advisory panel.

Pride marketing: Even the smallest acknowledgement can have the biggest impact
As a queer kid growing up in Australia in the 90s and 00s, I held a uniquely privileged position.

First, I have the most loving and inclusive family imaginable. “If either of you are gay, you know that would be completely fine” was a common phrase from my parents to my sister and me over our dinner table.

Secondly, I’m a white, cisgender man. And finally, I had a comfortable upbringing in suburban Melbourne.

Despite all of this, though, my coming out journey—like that of so many others—was hard and often lonely.

No one at my school was ‘out’, I didn’t have gay friends and queer people were rarely mentioned in conversation… Thinking back, you were more likely to hear the term ‘gay’ being used to describe a boring piece of homework than you were to listen to it being used to describe sexuality. In short, queer people and culture very rarely intersected with my life.

At least, that was until the late 00s.

While it’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment, the growing representation of queer people in media over this period played a significant part in helping me move from a place of fear about my sexuality to one of acceptance and, eventually, pride.

Some might shudder remembering the American acapella based TV-show Glee, but for me, this was the first time I had ever seen positive queer portrayals play out in mass media.

In the same vein, Queer Eye (the original) started to reposition the reputation and identity of the gay community in my eyes. It was a celebration of skills and personalities. In contrast, everything I’d seen to date had cast queer people on the periphery of culture at best and as vaguely sinister at worst.

Media representation of LGBTQ+ people, identities, and narratives was a hugely important part of my coming-out story because it made me feel part of something much, much bigger. It was part of what helped me eventually come out in 2012.

However, as many queer people know, there’s a big difference between coming out and actual acceptance, let alone developing pride in who you are. For me, that gap was paved by the remarkable momentum occurring culturally and being reflected and supported by brands and media in the 2010s.

While the ripples of the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling legalising gay marriage took time to reach Australia, when they did, brands supported it with gusto. As a young professional in my first year in the advertising industry, I can’t understate the impact of seeing the agency where I was working at the time work on the Airbnb ‘Until We All Belong’ campaign; a national rallying cry to vote ‘yes’ in the marriage equality plebiscite. Campaigns like this made me feel like people cared and it highlighted the space that existed for not only me but people ‘like me’ in Australian culture.

Reflecting on my journey, I feel tremendously lucky to have not only come out but also developed pride in myself and my community during a period when it consistently felt that things were getting a little bit better every day.

This Pride Month has prompted me to pause and take stock. Over the past few years, this sense of positive momentum has started to fade. Sometimes, it feels like we’re moving backwards.

Last year in the US, 510 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were proposed. Just last month in Sydney, a local council banned books about same-sex parenting from its libraries. Globally, homophobia and transphobia are being weaponised as a political jousting stick.

This has a knock-on effect on how brands support the community. For example, this Pride Month, after more than a decade of support, a department store in the US has decided to only stock its pride range in certain stores after experiencing threats to staff and a boycott over the collection last June.

On the other hand, many brands continue to support the LGBTQ+ community with not only action but representation. Closer to home, Diageo’s Johnnie Walker is a prime example, with their platform of Keep Walking Proudly showing up in different forms each Sydney Mardi Gras. This year, this even extended to the brand hosting a Debutante Ball to support community members from across Australia in attending their first-ever Mardi Gras.

But often it’s the outliers—like that department store—that attract the most attention, and it has prompted me to question whether brands truly realise the impact and potential impact that they can have when it comes to supporting the LGBTQ+ community.

Support can’t be inconsistent because there’s too much in the world that already is. The representation of queer communities shouldn’t only be seen as political; it’s also fundamentally the right thing to do and can be a lifeline for individuals.

That’s because brands and media shape culture. It’s as simple as that. And while that’s a tremendous opportunity, it’s also a grave responsibility.

When I think back to Glee and seeing the characters Kurt and Blaine kiss on free-to-air television at 7:30 on a weeknight or the full-page newspaper ads that rolled out showing the hundreds of corporate brands that supported marriage equality in Australia, it’s hard not to reflect on the impact that had and can continue to have today.

For brands that purport to be allies of the queer community, the task this Pride Month (and always) is simple: commit to that support in a continuous capacity. Even the most minor acknowledgement can have the hugest impact because it’s a clear sign saying, ‘We see you – there is space for you here.’

Joshua Green (he/him), is strategy director at Spark Foundry Australia and chair of the Media Federation of Australia’s (MFA) diversity, equity & inclusion advisory panel.


Campaign Asia

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