As we head into Vancouver Pride weekend, the city is becoming increasingly awash in rainbows.
When you're out and about in shops, you may see companies trotting out rainbow products.
On one hand, rainbow-themed products or services do help to increase the visibility of LGBT people and issues, particularly if they appear in places that may not traditionally associated with queer people.
Visibility is always important to counter historic or present erasure, exclusion, oversight, or discomfort.
On the other hand, Pride is about advancing LGBT rights and acceptance in the face of discrimination.
As the parade has become more and more mainstream—and a far cry from the days when marchers had to wear bags over their heads to hide their identities and had objects thrown at them in hatred—corporate presence at the parade has become a concern of many LGBT community members.
At the launch of Vancouver Pride Week in 2012, former Vancouver City councillor Ellen Woodsworth had this to say about corporations involved in Pride:
"Queer rights [activists] need to call on the corporations who are marketing Pride and marketing gays and lesbians, that if they're gonna make money off our community, we want that money to come back to our community," she said. "We don't want it to just be seen during Pride. We don't want it just to be on our t-shirts. We don't want it to be just on their advertising. We want a percentage of the money they reap in as they market something that's trending right now. Because we need it. Because we know that queer youths are being attacked. We know that queers are being killed. We know that queers are not able to speak their name out loud, out proud, in all situations. That includes elected levels of government. That includes the heads of corporations."
Something to consider before purchasing such products, or when you see companies participating in Pride events, is to ask the following questions:
- Is the company donating anything to or sponsoring LGBT organizations?
- Does the company support LGBT rights, issues, or organizations? And if so, how?
- What is the company's history of relations with LGBT people, rights, and issues?
In other words, is it just marketing as a means to increase profit and a chase after the "pink dollar", or does the company demonstrate support for and acceptance of LGBT people and issues through actions as well?
Something else to keep in mind is that small or independent businesses may not have the financial or staff resources to devote to LGBT efforts. A display of rainbows may be as much as they can do. Larger corporations, however, do have such resources and therefore should be held accountable.
Giving back to LGBT communities
However, here are a few examples of how businesses can give back to LGBT communities.
Denny's at 1098 Davie Street is serving pancakes for $2 each from 5 to 9 p.m. during the Davie Street Party. All proceeds will go to Vancouver-based queer resource centre Qmunity.
Several food and drink establishments are showing their support by participating in the Pride Crawl Fundraiser. Each participating location created a special Pride cocktail, with partial proceeds going to the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation. These cocktails will be served until Sunday (August 6).
Meanwhile, the local coffee chain Caffè Artigiano will be serving up their coffee with rainbow coffee sleeves at their downtown locations this week and next week.
The company's communication rep Cate Simpson informed the Georgia Straight that the reason that the sleeves are only available downtown is that they decided to add the sleeves to their cold drinks and will consequently use up their supply before the end of Pride. They have ordered more but they will arrive after Pride.
However, baristas will be creating rainbow latte art by customer request at all of their locations. Proceeds from those drinks ($1.50 each) will be going to the Dr. Peter Centre, which offers care for people with HIV.
As Caffè Artigiano has locations in West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby, and Richmond, which don't have Pride parades, the availability of things like rainbow lattes can help to remind people in those areas that Vancouver Pride is on—and that LGBT people exist everywhere, even if they may not be always visible.
This is important as there are areas of the city where same-sex couples may feel unsafe or uncomfortable to hold hands or kiss in public, or where trans people do not feel accepted or safe either.
Some companies, particularly those that do not have any LGBT employees, may have not considered some of these things but can think about incorporating them in the future.
While Pride is a celebration, it is also more than just that, as it is based upon a social and rights-based movement. Sure, it's great to celebrate the accomplishments that have been made, but it's also important not to lose sight of what it's all about.