By Curtis Sparrer, principal, Bospar PR
Marketers and communicators should pay particular attention to what happens in June.
The reason why?
June honors the 1969 anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that catapulted the modern gay rights movement. As LGBTQIA people became more accepted, marketers and communicators saw the parades and events as an opportunity to connect with a community that would reward that attention with loyalty and money. The community understands it is a platform and opportunity for visibility — a key component of education and advocacy.
But this year is markedly different — both for marketers and communicators who are part of the LGBTQIA community or those looking to engage with the community. They needed to flip the script.
“The first big pivot was, ‘How do we cover virtual events?’” said Cathy Renna, National LGBTQ Task Force communications director. Renna, a much-heralded PR and comms gay rights activist, was the media point person for World Pride and Stonewall 50, the largest Pride event in history with approximately 1,000 credentialed journalists.
She’s now organizing this year’s ambitious virtual Global Pride, which kicks off June 27 in New Zealand and culminates in New York, featuring more than 20 hours of programming that includes musical performances, speeches and key messages from human rights activists. In response to health concerns over COVID-19, Global Pride turned the famous Pride parades and parties around the world into virtual events.
Following George Floyd’s tragic killing and the worldwide protests that followed, Global Pride needed to pivot a second time. “Very quickly we pivoted to focus on issues related to racial justice, even more than what had been originally planned,” Renna explained.
To that end, and in what can be described as a perfect storm, the founders of Black Lives Matter will open this year’s Global Pride event, emphasizing the solidarity and shared messaging between the two.
“There will be a lot of media coverage of this,” Renna said. “In fact, there will probably be more now because of the way the community is responding to the need to have a bigger conversation both within the queer community and outside around racial justice.”
“When people hear black ‘Black Lives Matter,’ they assume straight and male — it’s not true,” said Kiki Monifa, CEO and president of BlackHistoryEveryday.com and a writer for the Post News Group. “Black Lives Matter was founded by three black queer women,” Monifa said, naming organizers Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullers and Opal Tometi.
“You really need to seek out people who aren’t the same as you and to find the commonalities,” she said when asked about what communicators should do in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. “We all have people that we know who have one queer friend or somebody who’s not like them. If you’re white, you have one black friend. If you’re black, you have one white friend, you have one Jewish friend, etc. And I think that the lessons to be learned in terms of PR and in life is you need to expand your universe.”
“We’ve been witnessing this for a few years — the convergence of our issues,” said Bob Witeck, president of Witeck Communications. “During the worst years of HIV and AIDS spread, people of color were always among the most vulnerable, and also the most likely to lack health insurance, to lack access to care, to lack empathy from family and others to know who they are. They had to deal with so many other burdens, and I think dealing with that created an ability or a knowledge, and I hope an empathy for the LGBTQ rights movement to realize that we’ve got to look out for the most vulnerable among us. So, COVID is just another episode or chapter in that story and how we are really good at catalyzing and mobilizing resources to respond to it. So, I think that’s the moment we’re in today.”
Witeck’s firm is the longest established LGBTQ-owned business enterprise certified by the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
“Pride’s always been filled with the contrast and even conflicting emotions,” he said. “It was built out of a riot or out of an uprising. It wasn’t so much violence of the uprising at the time, but it was frustration and indignity that we are trying to tear away and speak up for our own dignity and our own visibility. I think that frustration is what we’re also witnessing on the streets today. It’s the desire not to be passive, the need to be empowered and to empower everybody to be like that. So, I think Pride is actually a great marker for movements. It tells us that out of repression and out of hurt and out of alienation and out of illness and ignorance, good things can happen if you fight hard enough, and I think Pride is an example of that.”
Looking beyond just what communicators and marketers could learn from the past few months, Monifa offered this lesson: “We all need to acknowledge our privileges, and we need to listen because there’s not just white privilege — we all have some aspect of privilege. And we need to acknowledge our privilege and continue to listen and learn.”
Takeaways for communicators:
- Pivot quickly to change — and change again if you need to
- Find the bigger narrative and embrace it
- Seek points of view outside your own — it can bulletproof your message and provide perspective
- Good things happen if you fight hard enough