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How To Celebrate Pride Respectfully As A Small Business Owner

Illustration of Pride flag hanging in store window for respectfully celebrating pride as a small business owner and not co-opting pride

Celebrate LGBTQ+ rights without the risk of co-opting Pride.

June is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the month that marks the start of summer. The sun is shining, the flowers blooming, and corporate logos start to emerge from their chrysalises reborn as beautiful rainbows.

This year, there have been a number of objections from the LGBTQ+ community about the co-opting of Pride. This guide will help you understand how to celebrate Pride without the risk of co-opting it as a small business owner. 

What is Pride? (a crash course)

Pride is a time for the queer community to be seen. For a long time being queer meant keeping your identity out of sight. It often meant socializing in secret locations, communicating in code, and facing blatant harassment.

Pride doesn’t mean just one thing. It’s a celebration of diversity. A reminder of the hard-earned rights the queer community has fought for. And a brief glimpse into living life in the majority and outside the margin. 

The Stonewall Riots and the start of Pride

The Stonewall Riots kicked off the rainbow revolution. They took place at the Stonewall Inn at the heart of Greenwich Village in New York City. The riots began in the early-morning hours of June 28, 1969. Once again, the police raided the bar intent on making arrests and harassing the patrons. It was the boiling point for a community facing institutionalized harassment and discrimination. They fought back. 

A year later the first-ever Pride parade commemorated the riots. Pride is about continuing to work towards equal rights for the queer community. The year 2015 was a milestone for the fight for marriage equality. The Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were guaranteed the right to marry by the Constitition. However, the need for equal protection extends beyond marriage. There is still discrimination in workplace protections, equal access to healthcare, and military service. 

What does it mean to co-opt Pride? 

To co-opt something is to use it for a purpose that it wasn’t originally intended. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Like, using binder clips as chip clips or paper towels as napkins. But, when people talk about co-opting Pride, they’re talking about companies using Pride as a marketing scheme and not genuinely supporting LGBTQ+ rights.

The challenge then becomes the expansion of Pride without the expansion of rights the LGBTQ+ community is fighting for. 

How to celebrate Pride without co-opting it 

It all comes down to authenticity. The main issue is companies that change their logos to be rainbows for Pride month but don’t have equal protections for LGBTQ+ employees or do work that undermines the LGBTQ+ community. 

For small businesses, it’s easy to celebrate Pride, while also supporting the LGBTQ+ community. Just follow these three steps below.

Make your business inclusive for your customers and let people know about it

Is your business a safe and welcoming place to everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion or disability? 

If not, do you want to be? What steps could you take to make your business more inclusive?

  • Add gender pronouns to your name tags and train staff to be respectful of pronouns
  • Have inclusivity trainings for your staff 
  • Install a gender neutral restroom for customers 
  • Hire a diverse and inclusive team
  • Make your business ADA compliant
  • Offer to host inclusive community events in your space

If your business is a welcoming place, then it sounds like you’re Open To All. This is a national program as part of the Movement Advancement Project and more than 175 partner organizations. It promotes awareness and understanding of the importance of nondiscrimination laws and defends equality for members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

If you’re Open To All, you can request a window cling to feature in the window of your business and indicate it on your Yelp page. It’s easy, just follow these step-by-step instructions to mark yourself as Open To All

Employees like inclusivity too!

Each year, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) releases their Corporate Equality Index. It rates and ranks large businesses against HRC criteria for inclusion and equality. It’s a powerful tool that they use to promote equality across corporations. 

The score companies receive can be used as a recruitment tool. It also translates into a consumer buyer’s guide. The most inclusive companies are listed and promoted to consumers for their inclusion. 

While many of these criteria are specific to larger corporations, it’s a great roadmap to use when creating your own benefits within your small business. 

Focus on the rainbow, not the pot of gold at the end of it

Once a year, rainbow cookies around the world come out of hibernation. For just one month, they make their debut on store shelves. As a rainbow cookie preservationist, the question has to be asked, why can’t those cookies be sold year round? 

For members of the LGBTQ+ community, Pride is a time to celebrate. However, the challenges are year-round. By making a year-round commitment to support LGBTQ+ rights, you become a champion of the cause and a true ally. 

Worse than the plight of the rainbow cookie, is the use of Pride and the rainbow for pure profit. Store shelves stuffed to the gills with rainbow products, Pride exclusives, rainbows and “Pride” thrown haphazardly into marketing materials without any real connection to the cause or support of the LGBTQ+ community.

There is a certain pleasantness to seeing the world painted rainbow for a month. The challenge is when those rainbows hang empty of meaning. That is the true objection to the co-opting of Pride. It’s nice to have a rainbow what does it mean? What’s the history behind it? What was the struggle? It’s important context that adds much greater meaning to the symbol. 

Luckily, if you’re planning on being a committed patron of Pride for June, it’s not that hard to continuously support LGBTQ+ rights. Just continue your efforts and support beyond the month of June. Make allyship and Pride a year round thing. And, yes, please keep the rainbow flag up. It looks good on you.