Nick Bailey of futurefactor: why Pride still needs rebels for a risky cause

The days are at last getting longer, birds are singing in the trees, the first buds of spring are nosing through the soil, and across the world of advertising and marketing, thoughts are turning to love.

Or, more specifically, to rainbow-painted, ‘love is love’ love.

Because with the summer season just weeks away, the LGBTQ+ Pride marketing briefs are coming to town; hot off the press and into the award-hungry hands of newly-woke agency folk.

If I sound cynical, it’s only because I’m ancient enough to remember a time when to tell your colleagues you were going on a gay pride march entailed an element of risk.

Not that I held back. I’d enjoy challenging the baffled and embarrassed reactions, which were generally along the lines of “it’s legal now, so what’s the point?” But it was all certainly a long way from the ‘gay-for-day’ face-painted parents and rainbow cakes that characterize office culture these days.

So, I am unequivocally of the view that brands getting on board the Pride bus is a Good Thing (even if they’re a decade or two late.)

But as another season looms and the large-format printers get warmed up to roll out the rainbows for all those banks and insurance companies and retailers who’ve realised that a position on LGBTQ rights is a money-spinning very important principle to them – I can’t help reflecting on what that word ‘pride’ means, and why it matters.

Pride was chosen as the name for the nascent gay activist movement in the early 1970s not because it’s a positive, fluffy word, but because to express pride in being anything other than straight was a genuinely subversive act. It was a powerfully progressive statement from a marginalized group that had been taught that simply to be themselves was shameful.

It’s great that for many – especially young people – today such an idea seems remote and even shocking. Nevertheless it is, sadly, still relevant. As we’re seeing around the world, it’s not just a case of the future arriving at different rates, in some places the past appears to be making an unwelcome return.

Living in a progressive city like Amsterdam (and for many years before that, London), it’s easy to forget just how dangerous it can still be for an LGBTQ person even to identify themselves publicly – let alone to do so with pride. It was not in some far-off totalitarian regime, after all, but fellow EU member Poland that pride marchers were savagely beaten by right-wing thugs last summer.

Even here in the Netherlands, LGBTQ kids are habitually bullied and victimized, and are more likely than straight kids to suffer mental health issues and attempt suicide.

This is why (as if it needs explaining, but apparently it does), the sad spectacle of the sparsely-attended “straight pride” event in Boston, USA last year was so obnoxious and plainly wrong.

The idea that, because we have one day on which we celebrate our difference, the LGBTQ community has some sort of ‘advantage’ over the majority straight world must seem pretty hollow to the millions who fear for their mental health and physical safety every day.

Pride is not about those of us who enjoy the privilege of equality and security, (living as we do in the shrinking parts of the world where rights are protected by law). It is about the people for whom even feeling proud seems dangerous.

So, for those brands who came to the party late and are enjoying the reflected kudos of all those who marched before, I’d add an extra line to your ‘love is love’ advertising briefs this year:

‘Take a risk.’

Do something dangerous. Make a stand, like Coca-Cola did in Hungary last year, in a community where LGBTQ people are under attack. Challenge yourselves. Be prepared to lose something.

Because as long as the word ‘pride’ feels subversive for any of us, it should feel subversive for all of us.

Pride is an act of rebellion. And rebels take risks.

Nick Bailey is CEO of futurefactor.

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