Khushi Gaur from St. Stephens and Pragti Rathore from Miranda House
With the legalization of gay marriage in the US in 2015 and the more recent repeal of Section 377 in India, the LGBT+ community has been given the spotlight by the media and corporations worldwide. Pride marches, rainbow colored merchandise and extensive LGBT+ themed advertising has become the norm nowadays. While IKEA advertisements featuring gay couples and Colgate slogans like ‘Smile with Pride’ might seem like representation, there is a need to delve deeper into the issue to understand the factors that drive it. Earlier this year, Hong Kong-based LGBT Foundation came out with a report that said that if the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community were a country, it would be the world’s fourth-largest economy with a GDP of $4.6 trillion. In just one country – the US – LGBT business owners contribute over $1.7 trillion to the GDP. Closer homes, there are nearly 2.5 million gay people in India, according to the government’s submission in the Supreme Court; another report, “The birth of pink economy in India”, released by public relations firm MSL in 2012, put the figure at 2-13% of the population – that is between 20 million and 130 million. That’s a significant market opportunity.
When companies market products that are aimed to be inclusive, they are just not tapping into the affluent gay community, but they are also tapping into a class of subsidiary consumers willing to show their support for the movement through the consumption of products being sold by these companies. Celebrating LGBT rights has become a fashionable topic in marketing land. As increasing attention is focused on equal rights for the LGBT community—specifically, marriage equality and diversity in the workplace—it has started influencing how consumers make decisions. This is especially true among the young; over 45% of consumers under 34 years of age say they’re more likely to do repeat business with an LGBT-friendly company, reports a Google Consumer Survey from August of 2014. Of them, more than 54% also say they’d choose an equality-focused brand over a competitor. Most young consumers have grown up in an age when pride and queer identity are something to be bought. Companies are taking note of the changing perceptions of the youth today and are accordingly altering their brand identity and marketing strategies. Brands have responded with campaigns that espouse messages of inclusion, equality, and diversity.
While focusing on the LGBTQI as a consumer-class helps their inclusion in society, it also makes it an easy way to show support. Rainbow-filtered clothing and pictures drowns out the support for tangible efforts to cure enduring homophobia in society. It shuns out voices trying to highlight and resolve a history of sexualized and racialized hate crimes. At times, they also cover up corporate interests that continue to perpetuate said homophobia. Highlighting their queer-accepting identity helps companies avoid the wrath of the consumer by distracting from other controversies. From Amazon to JCPenney in the US – not to forget Barclays Bank in the UK – all have seemingly thrown their corporate weight behind the LGBT movement. But the case in point has been the history of controversies chasing these companies, which their recent rainbow-fueled measures have helped push to the background. Barclays has been the most complained about bank in the UK for a few years running now. JCPenney’s same-sex mothers and fathers advertising came just after the company announced large-scale redundancies. And Amazon faces a host of criticism ranging from poor working conditions and tax avoidance to treatment of smaller publishers.
Homonormativity and increasing inequalities
Homonormativity is a concept that addresses the problems of privilege observed in the queer community today as they intersect with White privilege, capitalism, sexism, transmisogyny, and cissexism, all of which end up leaving many people out of the movement toward greater sexual freedom and equality. It derives and is closely related to Heteronormativity, the assumptions that all humans fall into 2 complementary categories of male and female, and advertising targeted on them behaving according to these gendered norms. Homonormativity, on the other hand, implies a case of just one kind of queer identity- the richest, most affluent, White-est privileged gays. This sort of discrimination is openly practiced by corporations globally and can be seen in their marketing strategies. Since the 90s, advertisers have openly hailed the “Dream Market” of urban, well-educated, double-income gay and lesbian couples. This is where the problem comes in. The companies that are celebrated for furthering the LGBT cause through their pride marches and pink products are only targeting a narrow section of the LGBT community which suits their profit maximization agenda. Such companies have been accused of selling out the LGBT political agenda. There have been concerns about the portrayals of LGBT individuals in marketing. For instance, research by Katherine Sender has highlighted the fact that marketers continue to avoid targeting or portraying lesbians.
Other forms of sexual identities, including bisexuality and transsexual identities are virtually absent from any form of commercial representation. Such companies are preaching a version of diversity that benefits them which has led to widespread ignorance among the non-LGBT about the reality and socioeconomic situation of the marginalized sections within the LGBT community.
Corporates have been one among the more rooted institutions targeted by the movement, for their systemic oppression and lack of inclusion and equality of opportunity, to the members of the community. With studies accounting for lesser pay, fewer opportunities for promotions and more workplace harassment, there are many systemic issues plaguing the corporate world. With a pride symbol complimenting the company logo, portraying an allegiance to the cause, it would be erroneous to assume that below all the boisterous support doesn’t lie a deeply rooted commercial cause, aiming only to achieve a larger market base. The inclusion of these corporates into the pride market leads to exclusion of a certain class of the LGBTQI community- which enhances the already deep-rooted inequality plaguing the system. They paint sexuality as something that exists in a vacuum, disregarding other factors such as class, gender, race, etc. Products are rarely ever produced or targeted towards the black, female, Latina, Asian identity, transgender or disabled individuals- a section of population already earning the least, and gaining the minimum amounts of education. Most workplaces are closed to people belonging to the LGBTQI of these communities, and organizations are able to avoid getting called-out for this internalized homophobia due to their otherwise inclusive marketing and Pink-Washing.
Actions must be consistent with the values companies propagate for their PR. Organizations identifying themselves as the flag bearers of the cause, need to work on making a more inclusive work space, providing equality in opportunity and creating a safer working environment for all the members of the community. They have to make efforts to bring the most marginalized voices within the LGBTQI community to the fore-front, so that the ever-continuing systematic oppression is decreased, if not removed.