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No, I Don't Want Your Rainbow T-Shirt

rainbow products

It’s Pride season again. And with it, my Instagram and Facebook feeds are suddenly flooded with targeted ads promoting all sorts of LGBT-related products. Whether it's a rainbow wristband for my watch, a pair of rainbow sneakers to “march for equality,” or some sort of glow-in-the-dark T-shirt with a terribly stretched pun, I'm inundated with ads for Pride freebies.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all about Pride. And yes, I’ll be out on the streets of New York City next weekend, marching along with thousands of other queer people because I know that now, more than ever, visibility matters. But I also know that when it comes to corporate allyship, many businesses are simply getting it wrong, and for several reasons.

Most of these rainbow-hued products are probably created by straight cisgender publicists who typed LGBT into their stock image library. Yes, the rainbow flag is iconic to the LGBT community, but if the people behind these tchotchkes had invested the time and resources they do in other products, they would have realized that the vast majority of us do not want yet another rainbow shirt, pin, or mug. They would also know that there is more than one flag that represents the different groups within the LGBTQIA acronym. Businesses need to be more creative in appealing to a community that prides itself in looking for forms of expression that are rare and unconventional. The first step to achieve that would certainly be to bring queer people to the table.

Second, it is a matter of congruency. If you are going to call yourself a “diverse” business, you better put your house in order first. That means you don’t get to put out a marketing campaign using us to draw business in without having a nondiscrimination policy in place and ensuring that your queer employees have the proper work culture, protection from harassment, and family medical needs covered.

You also don’t get to say that you do not discriminate if your ads are always portraying a Modern Family-type upper-middle-class white cis gay couple. If you truly want to be inclusive, find those intersections where populations need their voices heard — whether because of their race, gender identity or nonconformity, immigration status, or other factor — and offer a channel so that they can speak for themselves.

Lastly, do not expect us to be OK with your company having a veneer of inclusion in one part of the world while you remain silent to discrimination in another. Being aggressive with your views on diversity may not be politically popular everywhere, but it's necessary. Businesses, and especially large corporations, should reach out to local queer communities and understand their needs. Then they must proceed, whether through financial resources, quiet diplomacy, or other means, to actively support them.

Respecting human rights is not an option but an obligation for all businesses, regardless of their size, sector, operational context, ownership, or structure. It is so established in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights that were unanimously endorsed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2011 (yup, the Trump administration just quit the Human Rights Council). This means that all businesses should avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their operations. So, before even thinking of marketing campaigns geared toward LGBT issues, businesses should be analyzing and addressing the negative impacts that their operations may have on queer people.

When a business sources from a supplier that discriminates throughout its recruitment process, it is complicit in such discrimination. When a company partners with a government that persecutes LGBT people, it is indirectly funding violence and hatred. And most evidently, when a business refuses to provide a service or sell a product to someone based on who the costumer is, it is also violating human rights.

There are two useful resources for businesses wishing to do the right thing. The first is the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, a tool that assesses how equitably businesses treat their LGBT employees, consumers, and investors. The second resource is the set of Standards of Conduct for Business on Tackling Discrimination against LGBTI people, published by the U.N.'s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights last year. It delineates five pillars that are easy to understand, embrace, and implement.

It's Pride season again. Let's raise a glass to businesses acting in a way that makes us all feel proud.

DANIEL BEREZOWSKY is an LGBT advocate from Mexico City. He is an HBO Point Foundation Scholar, currently pursuing a master's degree in international affairs at Columbia University. During his studies, Daniel has interned at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and at the LGBT rights division of Human Rights Watch.

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