Pride – Why Your Merch isn’t Advocating for Gay Rights

More than a Party

As a queer-owned business, we are fans of the Pride Festivals that are celebrated worldwide, and we appreciate the support from the people who show up and the companies that engage with their communities. However, after all the hype – there are issues that stand out to us.

Summer Pride is a celebration of human rights, but these celebrations aren’t happening for some. It is still a struggle and a fight for many worldwide, including our neighbours’ to the south (The USA). So as much as we love to celebrate, we also know that we must keep advocating for the rights of Queer and Trans folks.

History & Reflection

Gay Pride has been celebrated since the 1970s, and its roots are in commemorating the Stonewall riots, where police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1969. It’s also important to acknowledge the Black and Brown activists who led the fight against police brutality.

Pride celebrations range from month-long festivities to civic parades, rallies, and parties. The goal is to promote dignity, equality, and visibility of the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community. We’ve made lots of pride merchandise for our clients in the past to help them show their support. And to be honest, some of it has been awesome, and some have been a bit ‘meh.’

With the season of Pride celebrations upon us, we’ve been reflecting on how we can help our clients show up in an authentic way that shows their support to the community, but not at the expense of the planet and not by ‘Pride Washing.’ It means showing up for advocacy and inclusion every month and being mindful of your actions every day.

Given where we sit, as makers of promotional products, we can’t help but cringe when we see cheap plastic mardi-gras beads, toy whistles and the remnants of cheap merch on the streets of our communities after the party. (When briefing our marketing coordinator on this project, she said, ‘oh, I always know when it’s pride weekend by all the synthetic boa feathers floating around). The landfill shouldn’t be the beneficiary of your Pride merchandise budget.

We can do better together. Let’s say no to products that will end up in the landfill, and let’s show year-round commitment to inclusive workplaces and advocate strongly for the rights of LGBQT+ people.

What to avoid

  • Cheap plastic items that are not durable or usable. They’ll end up in the gutter.
  • Items with no sustainable options for end-of-life management. Pick items that are easy to recycle, reuse, or donate to your community.
  • Quantity over quality. If you can’t afford better merch, that’s ok. Consider fewer items for your campaign. Prioritize cool influencer or team merch over mass giveaways.

Things to consider

  • Less is more. Shift your budget from 1000 ‘little’ things to 100 super cool t-shirts/fanny packs or bucket hats and make the ‘must have’ giveaway at the event.
  • Find low impact/easy to recycled give-aways – our friends at Vancity have been long-time supporters of the LGBTQ+ community – and their merchandise is on point. Handheld recycled and recyclable fans/signs help them stand out without creating ‘brandfill.’
  • Focus less on ‘branding’ Pride and more on what you are doing in your day-to-day business to support the LGBTQ+ community. Need ideas – check out this great article on where to start.
  • In addition to promotional products, consider donating to local LGBTQ+ organizations.

It’s an eternal struggle to make merch better or to not do it at all. We know the sponsors, supporters, and partyers will show up and want to show support. It’s just time we all think twice before tossing garbage into the crowd and thinking it will showcase your brand in a favourable light.

Check out our Pride lookbook for ideas on how to promote pride right.

Now let’s celebrate – and advocate!

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