Virtual Pride: how the LGBTQ+ community is adapting celebrations

Thought Leadership
As we head into June – International Pride Month – our Head of R&I Paul Greenwood examines the impact of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ+ community, the role social media has played in helping the community stay connected, and the learnings for brands wanting to show their support during Pride Month, and beyond.

The Coronavirus is changing the way we live our lives and will continue to impact us for years to come. People can’t see their families, workers are battling wifi issues WFH, every influencer has a new found passion for cooking or showcasing their fitness regimen, whilst Zoom Quizzes are now a thing whether you like it or not. It’s safe to say, as a species, we adapt rapidly.

Bye, bye Pride 2020
120 (and counting) Pride Events have been cancelled globally due to the challenge of social distancing. It looks as though Pride 2020 will follow a similar fate to St Patrick’s Day, Glastonbury, the Euros, and have to wait until 2021. 

When we’ve analysed conversation around these big events that have been cancelled we see a similar pattern – a spike in conversation driven by news of the cancellation, an uptick in nostalgia for previous years, and a reaffirmation to celebrate doubly hard next year. Conversation and interest quickly falls away as people are living in the moment, focusing on their immediate needs.

The LGBTQ+ community does things slightly differently. It will take more than a global pandemic and extensive lockdowns to stop the LGBTQ+ community from celebrating Pride.

Yes, we followed the typical pattern of talking about cancelled events and nostalgia linked to #MyPrideIs where people described what Pride means to them – heartfelt, emotional messages with images from previous Prides. But then we turned our attention to trash talking big business for not doing enough to support Pride and organising the biggest online party ever (with a side order of drama).

More evidence of rainbow-washing 
The community were fast to critique corporations on how quickly they dropped Pride events with many Meme accounts driving this element of the conversation. It continues the narrative that has been building over the years around rainbow-washing – that corporations are paying lip-service to the community and not actively supporting it. And the social distancing is the excuse big business needed to shelve Pride 2020.

Nevertheless the community came together to organise Virtual Prides through crowdsourcing funds.

But first the drama. One such event was a UK Virtual Pride planned for 23 May featuring the lesser known Minogue, Dannii. On online spat between the organiser, Grant Bickell, and the Editor of Diva magazine, Linda Riley about Bickell’s political leanings and whether he was a supporter of Nigel Farage and Brexit spilled over in the mainstream news. It led to an ugly scene on social with Riley declaring herself #proudtobeapoliticalbigot. Diva withdrew support and a whole host of celebrities pulled out of the event (and Bickell stepped down). So the first UK Pride event of the season was cancelled.

Pride 2020: bigger, gayer, better
Despite the drama in the UK a consortium of local Pride organisations in the US and internationally, are organising a massive, worldwide Pride event to be held exclusively online. The plan is to hold a rolling 24-hour online Global Pride on 27 June, the anniversary of Stonewall, which will feature musical performances, speeches, and other Pride-related content each hour. We won’t be waiting until next year – the show will go on regardless.

How can brands support and get involved?
Like any event, Pride takes cash to host. Guests, speakers, entertainers, a platform to run it on, internet bandwidth – all need cold hard cash. So sponsor the event – especially if you’ve been a supporter of IRL Pride over the years.

Virtual Prides needs virtual avatars to spectate. Brands could create their pride collections online to ensure the spectators are suitably attired for the occasion. There might be virtual advertising space along the route that could be taken up by the brand. Or it could be about simply telling the stories of your LGBTQ+ employees online through your social channels during Pride.

Other things brands could do is follow the suggestions from Influencer and LGBTQ+ advocate Ashlee Marie Preston who launched the #PridePledge, an effort asking corporations to reallocate their annual LGBTQ+ Pride budgets back to the community to help sustain LGBTQ+ groups and individuals impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Just because we are in a lockdown doesn’t mean we can’t connect and come together for good causes. Brands still have a role to play – it just means they have to be a little more inventive.