Every Pride month, the problem of ‘Rainbow Washing’ rears its technicolour head. For those unfamiliar with the term, when companies appropriate the Pride flag during the month of June but do nothing of pragmatic value for their queer customers, that’s Rainbow Washing.
But it’s not just companies who offer nothing in return to the LGBTQ+ community who receive backlash. You might remember Marks and Spencer launching a Pride month sandwich in 2019 – the Lettuce, Guac, Bacon and Tomato. They declared the sandwich ‘packed with flavour’ and donated £10,000 to AKT (the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ homeless charity) but it still left a bad taste in people’s mouths.
So, what is it about Rainbow Washing that provokes angry community leaders and a month of social media outrage? Perhaps it’s about money. Yes, Marks and Spencer gave a healthy sum to AKT, but I’m sure they made a few quid for themselves by jazzing up a BLT and selling it for £4.45. But let’s be realistic. Companies are about profits, and the margins need to be worth it.
Maybe lack of creativity is to blame.
Since 2016, Skittles have ditched their signature rainbow colours for Pride Month, selling white sweets in white packaging because ‘only one rainbow matters [during] pride’. Like M&S, they donate a portion of proceeds to deserving charities.
They might have made it impossible to find the purples and avoid the greens, but the public responded more favourably to a campaign promising to ‘give the rainbow’ rather than take it purely for commercial gain. Skittles went further than adding some arbitrary guacamole to a British lunchtime staple.
They build on their campaign year after year, and in 2021, they colourised black and white images of LGBTQ+ history for the first time, bringing attention to queer heroes without whom we wouldn’t be celebrating Pride in the first place. Surely that’s a worthy Pride campaign.
Then again, Mars Inc (owner of Skittles) must have profited, because the rainbow-less confection is back for the seventh year running, and it’s difficult to believe a multi-billion-pound company runs on altruism alone.
If I had to guess what makes a good Pride campaign, I’d say it’s about authenticity. I can’t define authenticity (which I appreciate isn’t very helpful) but I can tell you about some of the things Proudly King’s are doing to celebrate Pride Month 2022:
- We’ve organised social and educational events. Both are important. We’re particularly excited about ‘Stories of Queer Poland’, a joint event with Warsaw University on Wednesday 22nd June at 5.30pm, online and in person.
- We’re continuing our allyship campaign, encouraging colleagues to pledge to the LGBTQ+ community in order to receive a beautiful progress lanyard and wear with pride. So far, we have over 400 pledges. You’ll see some of them at the bottom of this blog.
- We’re flying flags from Strand, Guy’s, Waterloo and Denmark Hill campuses. The buildings at Denmark Hill are illuminated with rainbow colours. There’s nothing wrong with visible celebration of Pride Month as long as that’s not the only thing you do.
- Most importantly, we’re continuing our year-round work. We’re marching at London Trans+ Pride in July and attending UK Black Pride in August and Bi Pride in September. We’re continuously working with EDI and Senior Leaders to improve the LGBTQ+ experience at King’s. I’m sure you’re all aware (because we haven’t stopped banging on about it) that King’s was awarded a Stonewall Gold Award in February 2022 and Proudly King’s was a highly commended Staff Network. That’s a testament to our institution’s commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion.
There’s no rule book on ‘How To Do Pride Month’. To be honest, I’m not always sure what’s right and what’s wrong. But I do know that authenticity (however you define it) goes a long way.
This year, I emailed Estates and Facilities colleagues around King’s to ask about flying Pride flags. They responded almost immediately, with kindness and enthusiasm, to tell me they’d be up on the June 1st. They didn’t need reminding.
So yes, they’re just flags, but they symbolise King’s coming together to support and celebrate our LGBTQ+ colleagues.
That’s what Pride means to me.
Proudly King’s Allyship Campaign Pledges
Below are some pledges that members of the King’s community have shared with Proudly King’s as part of their allyship campaign.
|As a white cis gay man, I’ve had a lot of things pretty easy, but even so I still think twice before holding my husband’s hand in public. I’m going to support + the LGBTQ community more visibly, promote equality and challenge prejudice in my work, volunteering and my personal life.|
|I will work towards incorporating more inclusive events and LGBTQ+ representation within the Refreshers and Welcome to King’s projects, expand our support and offer guidelines to services and faculty events.|
|I will engage in self-directed learning and active listening so that I can better understand the issues impacting the community.|
|I pledge to display the Proudly King’s banner as a symbol of my allyship for the LGBTQ+ community and to indicate my openness to having conversations with students and staff about issues they might find difficult to talk about. Being open about my allyship is an important step for me.|
|It starts at home. I champion this within my family hoping that changes in the way they speak and describe members of the LGBTQ+ community would lead to changes in interactions within their own social circles and so on.|
|I’m going to try and be more of a visible bi role model in my department and continue to support others in having challenging conversations. I also hope to introduce pronouns to more student activities for the projects I oversee.|
|I’m going to speak out against transphobic attitudes when raised by friends and family. I’m going to look at ways we can be more inclusive for young learners in our widening participation programmes.|
|I will stand up against negative, harmful and discriminatory comments and behaviour. I will continue to educate myself – and know this is my responsibility. I’ll model good behaviour but will own my mistakes and learn from them.|
|I will be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community by ensuring that all of our processes and policies within the Business School support equality, diversity and inclusion. I will try my best to encourage all of the diverse voices and views within the School to be heard, and to speak up when homophobic, transphobic or other intolerant views are expressed in my presence.|
|I pledge to proactively learn more about LGBTQ+, through books, films, tv shows, listening to podcasts, talking to those who identify as LGBTQ+ to better understand the existing barriers and challenges. I hope that this will not only allow me to be informed but will also enable me to learn how to become a better ally.|
Where you can seek support
For members of the King’s College London Community:
- Visit the Employee Assistance Programme from free and confidential support.
- Check out our Dignity at King’s
- Proudly King’s, our LGBTQ+ staff network.
- KCLSU LGBTQ+ society and network.
- Counselling and mental health support service.
- Visit our LGBTQ+ allyship toolkit.
- Attend one of our upcoming training courses:
External support available to all:
- Galop is a charity that supports LGBTQ+ people who have experienced abuse.
- Switchboard LGBT+ helpline offer free, confidential and impartial advice and support.
- Stonewall are a leading LGBTQ+ charity.
- Mermaids offer support to transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse young people and their families.
Want to Learn more about Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s College London?
- Found out more by visiting our Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s pages.
- Follow us on Twitter.
- Email the team at email@example.com