Pride everlasting: Stonewall on keeping the Pride month momentum going
Pride month has ended, and most major Pride parades, in the UK and USA at least, are done for the year. We sat down with Robbie de Santos of Stonewall and Alex Lewis of Revolt, Stonewall’s agency partner on its evergreen ‘Take Pride’ campaign, to ask: how can brands and agencies take Pride seriously for the next 11 months?
Pride, the emotion, might be valuable in fleeting moments, but the real goal is to take pride in who you are permanently. That idea is behind much recent criticism of brands and corporations’ behaviour during Pride month, under the rubric of pinkwashing and tokenism: Pride isn’t Pride if it isn’t permanent.
The origins of Pride month and marches lie in protest: the inaugural march in New York City commemorated a year after the Stonewall riots, in which LGBTQ+ people organized against police raids and unfair treatment under the law. The Pride events that followed were acts of defiance: pride in LGBTQ+ identity in the face of abuse and inequality.
The UK’s first Pride march was in 1972, making this year’s events the 50th anniversary. Robbie de Santos, director of communications and external affairs at Stonewall (the UK charity that takes its name from those inaugural protests), tells The Drum that the mood of the events this year told a story. “The energy at Pride in London this year felt really different to what it’s felt like in recent years, where it has been quite parade-like, rather than protest-like,” he says. “The energy felt much more toward the protest side this year.”
That’s no accident: 50 years on, de Santos says, there’s much to celebrate – but there remain very real threats and obstacles to LGBTQ+ people. While we talk, for example, a leadership contest that will decide the UK’s next prime minister is descending into an all-too-familiar pile-on against transgender rights.
“There is a real sense of urgency,” de Santos tells us. “There is real fear about rising hate crime, which has more than doubled in the last five years, with a disproportionate effect on trans people. We’re living in a time of what we’re calling ‘plastic moral panic,’ where this cultural narrative is really taking hold. It’s not based on any reality of LGBTQ+ people being a threat in the world, but it’s been made out to be one. We’re seeing real threats to our lives, rising violence, and people are angry and scared.”
It would be remiss not to mention that Stonewall, and some people associated with the organization, have recently been at the centre of fraught debates about the priority of trans rights. For de Santos, the charity’s position is clear: “We at Stonewall are very clear that we support trans people, we are an LGBTQ+ organization… fundamentally, we believe trans people deserve to live free, happy, safe lives.”
The ‘Take Pride’ campaign, developed with Stonewall’s agency partner Revolt (which previously worked on a Stonewall rebrand), is designed to reassert the year-round, society-wide commitment required to claim and protect equal rights and treatment for LGBTQ+ people. The campaign will run, they say, for years as a “sub-brand” campaign.
“We wanted to deliver a simple message that brought people together, and really connected with the fact that LGBTQ+ equality hasn’t just been won by a few activists on the fringes; it has been won by people in workplaces, people in schools, friends and families, who have all shown up for LGBTQ+ people in their lives,” says de Santos. “Really, there’s an element of complacency about it. That complacency comes from a lack of ownership. The thinking behind this campaign is about helping people to own their part in our Pride movement, whether they’re LGBTQ+ or not, and to commit to that on an ongoing basis.”
That ongoing basis means creating “multiple moments throughout the year, beyond the awareness day/week/month cycle,” such as the ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign. Organizations should, equally, be focused on the whole calendar; the prognosis here from de Santos is actually pretty good: “Most organizations aren’t just doing some kind of above-the line activation for the month of June; most of them actually do go quite deep.”
The trouble is that “they don’t have the narrative to talk about it… I think there’s a tension between D&I teams and comms teams in these institutions where good work happens all year round, but the comms teams often are the ones saying, ‘we can’t talk about it unless there’s the Pride month hook.’ One of the challenges for comms and advertising teams, across all industries, is to be better at integrating and celebrating the good work that they do.”
De Santos is clear about what he wants to see next from Pride and its relatives: “Stand and fight and hold strong, because this isn’t a time about winning new rights. It’s a time about protecting the existing rights that we’ve fought for, before we’re able to think about significant steps forward.”
Meanwhile, Alex Lewis, co-founder of purpose-specialist agency Revolt, which partnered on the campaign, is confident that the industry’s trend toward authentic, purpose-driven marketing is here to stay. He compares the industry’s position on purpose to its position on digital transformation 20 years ago (so: nascent but very clearly heading in one direction). He encourages brands to take a more granular look at “the ‘fights within the fight,’ which is quite an interesting space for brands, because I think it makes it more ownable and distinctive, rather than just associating yourself as a brand with the macro rainbow and the notion of Pride.”
Lewis is clear on the question that brands should be asking themselves. “What is it about your own DNA, your own product and service, your history, that can be directed toward something a bit more granular and focused, which would be of real benefit?”