For many LGBTQIA+ folks, Pride month is a time to celebrate our identities, honoring those who paved the way (shout out to Marsh P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera) and reflect on the work we need to do to support our marginalized community members.
It’s also a time for rainbows. Lots and lots of rainbows. But, not every rainbow is welcome.
In recent years, the practice of “rainbow washing,” which is when companies use rainbow colors and imagery to indicate support for the queer community without taking tangible actions to support it, has surged. Pride is hip these days, especially because LGBTQIA+ adults have a combined buying power of $3.7 trillion.
As rainbow washing intensifies, the LGBTQIA+ community is becoming more critical and distrustful of brands during Pride month. A Unilever study found that 66% of LGBTQIA+ individuals between the ages of 18 to 34 believe companies use queer representation in ads to reach diversity quotas. More and more brands are being called out for Pride Month displays while also supporting anti-gay politicians and legislation.
The truth is, for the queer community, a rainbow is no longer synonymous with allyship.
So, how do allies genuinely support the gay, queer and trans community?
Whether you’re self-employed or running a multi-million dollar company, the key is to take tangible steps to create a more inclusive environment for your customers, contractors and employees year-round. It’s also to listen and take cues from the LGBTQIA+ community. Trust us. We know what we need.
We asked five queer business owners how LGBTQIA+ allies can build more queer and trans-inclusive businesses. Here’s what they had to say.
Isis Asare (she/they), CEO/Founder of Sistah Scifi
“There are lots and lots of ways businesses can support the LGBTQ+ community. First, and foremost, is to really be intentional about having an authentic relationship with the LGBTQ community. Having a float during Pride, as fun as it is, is not the best and only way for businesses to support the LGBTQ community. Support goes way beyond that. Start with having authentic connections, communication and getting feedback.
When your customers interact with you, ask what their preferred gender pronoun is. Often, people’s appearance may not be the best indicator of their preferred gender pronouns and instead of making assumptions, ask.
In any form of documentation that asks for gender, go beyond male and female to ‘gender non-conforming’, ‘other’ or ‘prefer not to say.’ If you have a physical location, having gender-neutral bathrooms is amazing. I know that sounds really small, but that can go a long way in being gender-affirming and inclusive to the LGBTQ community.”
Hear more from Isis on how to build an inclusive business here.
Lianne Hope (she/her), Owner Hope Consulting Group
“The biggest problems I see in many hetero-normative businesses are issues pertaining to misgendering. We know how traumatic misgendering can be for queer and trans folks trying to use public bathrooms. All businesses should adopt bathroom policies that ensure safe spaces for queer and trans employees.
Secondly, businesses should adopt policies that encourage all employees to state their gender pronouns in meetings and email signature lines. Finally, trainings can teach staff members about the importance of using gender-neutral labels when greeting co-workers and constituents such as ‘folks’ rather than ‘ladies’ or ‘gentlemen.’ Adopting these practices will eliminate people’s tendency to make assumptions about one’s gender.”
Luca Page (they/them), Owner of Radically Fit
“Hire queer folks who are in alignment with the mission and prop queer folks up in the organization. Be mindful of all the intersections of our queer communities and ensure that the most marginalized people are getting opportunities for employment and support!”
Micah Riot (they/them), Owner of Micah Riot Tattoo
“A queer-inclusive business means building a business ethically. Part of that is shifting our mindset about what business success looks like away from profit above all, to enough profit to pay employees a living wage. From there, we can involve ourselves in people-centered business practices, and keep finding places where we fail to do so and keep tweaking our systems until we can truly say that we put humans and the health of our planet before financial gain.”
Julie Wang (she/her), Owner of Julie Wang CMT
“The wellness industry is very binary when it comes to gender so it’s important for businesses to think outside of gender binaries and respect all folks on the gender spectrum. Things like asking about pronouns, checking in with people’s comfort level with physical contact and not making assumptions about their body’s needs all make a difference in helping someone feel comfortable.”
Andi Smiles, small business financial consultant and coach, teaches rad business owners to take control of their finances so they can step into their personal power.
She’s helped hundreds of self-employed folx organize and understand their business finances, while also uncovering their emotional relationship with money. Andi’s core belief is that when business owners are engaged with their finances, their personal awareness around money deepens, creating more sustainable and authentic businesses. She loves helping business owners connect with and feel good about their finances- no matter how many dollars are in their bank account.