Genuine allyship: distinguishing heartfelt advocacy from uncaring capitalism

We are living in an era of sexual liberalization. In the long, harsh, and brutal history of humanity, never has LGBT+ pride been celebrated more than today. We wave the rainbow flag and attend pride parades, but we also celebrate same-sex marriages, use appropriate gender pronouns, and buy from companies that employ and support LGBT+ persons.

Large corporations have now also caught on, but many of them seem less interested in LGBT+ advocacy than cold hard cash. To show their “goodwill”, companies resort to performative activism or are inconsistent about their values across cultures. For instance, every June, companies change their profile pictures to the colours of the rainbow flag. Brands like Converse prominently display symbols of the LGBT+ movement on t-shirts and shoes. While this sounds like good advocacy, are their actions truly sincere? In this age of targeted algorithmic advertising, how can we determine whether a firm is attempting to increase its profit margin by baiting allies into buying their “prideful” products? Pride is turning into a consumer product under the harrowing system of capitalism. How should a genuine ally of the movement navigate this world?

Photo: Converse Pride Collection

What is uncaring CAPITALISM in the LGBT+ community?

Before we go on, note that most efforts of companies do help in promoting LGBT+ advocacy. We should commend the firms that promote the rights and struggles of the LGBT+ community, such as Apple’s pride edition wristband for the Apple Watch, and Burger King’s gay pride burger. While these products are designed to attract millennial consumers and are “performative”, they are still able to raise attention on the LGBT+ cause. These business decisions increase the presence and visibility of LGBT+ issues in the public sphere, which is not a bad thing.

Photo: Burger King’s Gay Pride Burger

Unfortunately, companies engage in virtue-signaling by the blatant disregard of the struggles of the LGBT+ community. Alternatively, they engage in slacktivism, slacking off by engaging in performative, insincere, and pointless activism for reaping profits. Several examples of companies engaging in hollow activism:

  • Adidas dedicates a section of its website to pride but also supported the 2018 Russian World Cup.
  • Gilead (a pharmaceutical corporation) owns a pill that reduces HIV risk by 90%. They sponsor New York City Pride but still has not released their drug patent to allow for general development. Significant groups of the LGBT+ population remain at risk.
  • YouTube adopted a rainbow flag for their profile picture but continued to maintain homophobic videos on their site.

WHAT SHOULD AN ALLY OF THE LGBT+ MOVEMENT DO IN RESPONSE TO THIS?

An ally of the LGBT+ movement must make a choice: they can ignore the less honorable parts of performative activism and slacktivism, or they can demand more from our companies. Genuine allyship entails the pursuit of the latter.

Allies should be aware of the issues that face the LGBT+ community and look beyond the well-constructed facades of companies for maintaining social and political correctness. They should observe the catalogue of examples in which companies exploit the LGBT+ movement and have inconsistent values. They should note the flagrant queerbaiting in entertainment, like how Sherlock attracts LGBT+ audiences by the romantic relationship between Watson and Holmes. And they should find the companies that support LGBT+ people — the companies that have clear codes of conduct for anti-discrimination policies, the companies that have tried to eliminate implicit bias in their recruitment processes, and the companies demonstrate consistent values in their business structure.

In sum — allyship is thinking about and finding out whether the companies we buy from are truly being responsible to society.

WHO IS A GENUINE ALLY?

Genuine allyship requires more than a superficial appreciation of the issues facing sexual minorities. It is actively exploring concerns and thoughts rather than passively receiving knowledge. It is expressing awareness and rather than showing indifferent interest. It is taking constructive and effective personal actions rather than making performative statements.

An ally can support the LGBT+ movement and its members by consciously supporting the companies that are supporting and recognizing the full rights and struggles of LGBT+ individuals, and thinking about whether their current consumption choices are in line with promoting the core, intrinsic values of the LGBT+ movement.

We are all allies, but as with everything in life, it is the extent to which we support the freedom, inclusion and liberation of LGBT+ people that matters in the end. 

Quality knowledge has never been more crucial to ensuring that you make educated decisions as a genuine ally. Rebolt is a browser extension that provides access to a portal displaying a company’s record on LGBT+ issues with a single click. By using this information, you can truly fulfil the duties of a responsible, effective, and genuine ally. You can ensure that your consumption is conducive to the promotion of LGBT+ welfare and become a champion of the LGBT+ movement for all.

Photo: Ally — PFLAG

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