Going digital could help Pride reach new audiences

With Pride postponed, the LGBT+ community is looking to brands to create new safe spaces.

Pride in London: campaign aims to unite community during lockdown
Pride in London: campaign aims to unite community during lockdown

Last year, 1.5 million people came to central London to celebrate Pride – an LGBT+ cornerstone that has been celebrated in the big smoke since 1972, in commemoration of the New York’s revolutionary Stonewall riots.

To mark 50 years since the New York uprising, 30,000 people marched through the streets of London, with sponsors including Barclays, Coca-Cola and BT standing in solidarity with the LGBT+ community.

This year, however, has seen Soho come to a standstill as the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt life as we know it across the UK.

While Levi’s, Puma and Nyx have already come out in support of the LGBT+ community for Pride month, this year’s loss of physical Pride events around the world raises concerns over access to safe spaces for LGBT+ people.

Tim Noblett, co-chair of Open Pride UK & Allies, Omnicom's LGBT+ network, argues that without a physical space, brands are at risk of their content being interpreted as "badging instead of support".

"Safe spaces are about presenting and representing yourself in the way you want to be seen, learning from other people and getting confirmation and affirmation from other people in doing that," Noblett told Campaign.

"Brands who have aligned previously should be looking to continue that support. Otherwise, the risk is to be seen in a negative light that your sponsorship of these things isn't a priority."

The issue of "pinkwashing" has been prevalent in the LGBT+ community around Pride month for years, with last year’s alleged culprits including Fairy’s rebrand to Fair, Marks & Spencer's "queer" sandwiches and H&M’s Pride collection (of which 10% of sales proceeds were donated to the United Nations Free & Equal campaign).

But Tom Stevens, director of marketing at Pride in London, hailed digital spaces as an ideal medium for people who may be uncomfortable with the spectacle of real-life Pride events.

"With Pride in London being postponed until next year, as pretty much every Pride in the country has been, we've been looking at how we can keep the spirit of Pride alive and take that ownership online," Stevens said.

In an attempt to keep the LGBT+ community connected and remedy the isolation many may be experiencing in lockdown, Pride in London has launched Coming Out – a  year-long list of virtual events run by queer performers, community groups and networking events for the community to come together.

Gay Times launched its free digital Undistanced festival, which features tutorials, workshops and DJ sets to inform and entertain the LGBT+ commuinty, while PinkNews opted for a virtual Pride event, called Pride for All.

These projects come alongside the launch of Pride in London’s new campaign, "You! Me! Us! We!", created by Anomaly, that shows the need for support and solidarity among LGBT+ people by providing an insight into some of their lives.

"Pride is often the one day of the year when some people can truly be themselves and feel visible and valid in their identity," Stevens explained.

"It's important for us to create something that continues to bring the community together and our campaign is intended to be that visibility out in the world."

Riffing off last year’s 30,000-person march, Pride in London is encouraging the LGBT+ community to participate in its 30,000 Acts of Allyship initiative.

With a focus on active allyship, the initiative urges people to write to their MPs about the Gender Recognition Act (which allows people to change their legal gender) and other issues including conversion therapy, as well as to educate themselves on marginalised parts of the community.

While Pride in London is expected to return to all its rainbow-coloured glory in 2021, Stevens maintained that digital events may still have a role in creating safe spaces.

"There are people who find Pride events generally a bit overwhelming and might not want to take part in those, so if they can show their allyship to the rest of the community, support the community and feel seen and heard, and take part in a different way online, that's something for us as an organisation to consider," he said.

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