Every summer communities across the country (and the globe) come together to show solidarity and support for the LGBTQIA+ community through protests, parades, rallies, volunteer work, and festivals known together as Pride. Pride has always been about education, self-affirmation, equality, and increased visibility for LGBTQIA+ people.
Started as a celebration in the United States to commemorate the activism and rebellions demonstrated during the Stonewall riots in June of 1969, Pride has evolved rapidly over the past fifty or so years.
While many of the changes are a reflection of social progress within our country, Pride has drastically shifted from honoring activists like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson and being used as a socio-political grand stage for demonstrations like same-sex marriage to a heavily commercialized, corporate-sponsored party, minimizing the present-day challenges of the LGBTQIA+ experience.
Here we are again in early June and you may have noticed an increase in #loveislove campaigns and rainbow color schemes on advertisements and in the media. Millions of dollars are often half-heartedly donated to social change organizations such as ACLU and the HRC, while for some companies, simultaneously donating to anti-LGBTQ organizations and politicians.
Corporations pour ad dollars into Pride event sponsorships and campaigns without any actual volunteer efforts or acknowledgement to the challenges faced by many LGBTQIA+ people or without even addressing the cultural needs of the LGBTQIA+ individuals within their own organizations. These efforts can be appreciated for what they are, but it’s important to keep in mind a key component to the allyship or action in question: the intent.
When rainbow flags and colors are added to company websites, store fronts, and social media pages or when brands push rainbow-themed products during the Pride season, yet do not keep up the same supportive efforts of queer communities year-round, it is a form of performative allyship known as “rainbow washing.”
Wired.com’s social media coordinator, Justice Namaste, hit the nail on the head in this article about Pride consumerism when she said, “Rainbow-washing allows people, governments, and corporations that don’t do tangible work to support LGBTQ+ communities at any other time during the year to slap a rainbow on top of something in the month of June and call it allyship.”
While arguments can be made that the commercialization of Pride has increased LGBTQIA+ visibility and continues to help normalize queer identities, recent studies show that LGBTQIA+ Americans are still experiencing high rates of workplace discrimination, violence, housing insecurity, and obstacles preventing access to medical care.
In a study conducted by the Center for American Progress and NORC at the University of Chicago on the state of the American LGBT community in 2020, it was found that 1 in 3 LGBTQIA+ identifying Americans reported experiences of discrimination from 2019-2020 with 36% of those incidents occurring in the workplace.
In 2019, the American Medical Association held a press release on new policy to bring national attention to the “epidemic” of violence against transgender individuals, particulary Black trans women. The number of transgender deaths due to violence nearly doubled from 2019 to 2020, and is tracking similarly in 2021.
For the LGBTQIA+ community, Pride is very much still a protest.
Pride exists not only for the people who are already ‘out’, but also for all the people who either know someone who is out, and for people who haven’t personally come out yet. Viewed through that lens, the perspective shifts, and it becomes clear that Pride is a movement that benefits every person.
So how can organizations show their support for their LGBTQIA+ employees, local communities, Pride celebrations, and other marginalized groups without “rainbow washing” or falling into other traps of performative allyship?
LGBTQIA+ allyship goes beyond Pride month. Celebrate your employees and join them in celebrating and promoting Pride at your organization, but keep in mind that queer identity does not begin and end with Pride, and neither should your action and support. Your LGBTQIA+ colleagues and employees will continue to face injustices and discrimination in their daily lives when the celebrations have ended. They will continue to see and hear about other queer folks being assaulted and killed in the media.
It’s important for your organization to recognize issues directly affecting the LGBTQIA+ community locally and at large and to provide grace (and hopefully space!) for employee reflection and discussion. Listen to the storytelling and experiences shared and lift others up by advocating for them. Respect and acknowledge preferred pronouns, names and identities. Recognize the impact that decisions made by your organization will have on your LGBTQIA+ employees and community.
Get real about where you are. It may be time for your organization to ask itself (and its employees) the hard questions. Do your LGBTQIA+ employees feel supported in expressing their identities within the workplace? Does your organization genuinely strive for inclusivity and equality? Do your employee benefits and medical plans support all persons, genders, family structures, and include coverage for trans medications and procedures?
Proactively ask coworkers and employees what they need to feel safe and happy at work. This will allow them to come to work as they are. I promise that helping them feel safe will support them in doing their best work as your employee.
Lay the foundation. You can’t expect your organization to be seen as an inclusive and accepting place, if there hasn’t been any groundwork laid to make it so. Gaining answers to the questions you may have asked of yourself and your organization from above can assist in knowing what the internal needs are for a more authentic and inclusive work environment.
Create a DEIB committee. Allow employees to create employee resource groups (ERGs). Host empathy circles. Make necessary and inclusive changes to your hiring process, growth and promotional process, benefits, healthcare plans, and policies. Increase representation by celebrating employee successes, both professionally and personally. Donate to local marginalized communities and queer organizations. Use your organization’s privilege and resources to make real change internally and externally.
At Nutshell, my coworkers help me feel seen and encourage me to hold space at our D&I meetings to educate my cishet coworkers on what it means to be queer.
Here is a list of resources that have helped our team as we take steps to make Nutshell a more inclusive environment:
Over the past year and a half, my colleagues and I have been working closely with the leadership team here at Nutshell to improve on our own diversity, equity, inclusivity, and sense of belonging. As a Black queer woman who ‘transplanted’ into the tech industry, it was difficult to gain a sense of any of the four, and a few other colleagues (of differing identities and lived experiences) expressed feeling similarly. It was imperative that there be dedication to developing a company culture that intentionally supported and served everyone. Partnering with my colleague Jack Virag, our leadership team allowed us space to create and lead Nutshell’s Diversity & Inclusion initiative.
Our weekly D&I meetings allowed for employees to openly discuss socio-political topics, recent events, the tech industry’s relationship with D&I, and Nutshell’s current culture.
Nutshell employs some of my biggest queer role models, and working alongside them every day is what finally made me feel safe enough inside & out to express my identity as a bisexual person (bi-dentity, if you will, heh).
We were able to seek out virtual and local resources in DEIB, and had a local hero come educate our entire company on centering justice and dismantling systemic oppression, not only within our organization, but also within our every day lives. (A big shout out to Yodit Mesfin Johnson and the necessary work being done by the NEW team, who also happen to be Nutshell customers!)
We spent the better part of last year donating to various local organizations and causes in our own neighborhood, (such as Black Men Read, Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels, Michigan Medicine, and Breakfast at St. Andrews) and continued our efforts to develop our D&I initiatives and grow meeting attendance and participation. So far this year, we have tripled our regular meeting size (Look, going from 5 participants weekly to 15 participants weekly is a win. Period.), held several heavy, yet educational discussions as a group, and are receiving not only more directional support, but hands-on participation from the Nutshell leadership team—something D&I absolutely needed in order to succeed.
Over the next few months, our leadership team will be taking a hard look at our hiring processes and how we can effectively cast a wider net for more diverse talent. Our D&I committee will be hosting a networking event to provide career advice, industry transition skills, and resume assistance for local jobseekers interested in pursuing a career in tech. We will continue to reach out to more local organizations to find out how Nutshell can better support our community.
And we will continue to be authentically ourselves while providing a great product and service to our customers!
You can learn more about our team members and their individual Nutshell journeys by visiting our company page, and you can keep up with everything going on at Nutshell by following us on Instagram and Twitter.
How does your organization support its LGBTQIA+ employees year round? What culture improvements have your organization committed to in order to support diversity and inclusion?
Keep the conversation going with me at email@example.com!
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