What happens after Pride Month?

Instead of adorning everything in rainbows for just one month, companies should be taking action to support LGBTQ+ employees all year round, says Dr Paul Taylor-Pitt

Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Before you read any further, I need you to know I'm writing this while wearing a pair of Adidas Pride edition trainers, Levi's Pride socks and Calvin Klein Pride pants, and drinking from a Costa Pride rainbow mug as I enjoy an Ole & Steen Pride brownie. So everything I'm about to discuss might seem a little hypocritical, but I like to think of it more as complex. And that's what it's like being gay in general, but particularly during Pride Month.

Growing up as a gay child in Aberdeen in the 70s and 80s, there really were no role models. Well, there was that one guy who worked on the perfume counter in Debenhams, but I was always too shy to speak to him. How would the conversation go? ‘Hi, I don’t wear make-up but I think I fancy men – can you recommend anything for that? Concealer maybe?’ There were very few people whom I thought were on my side. As a child being bullied at school, my parents sometimes gave me some sweets or a Star Wars toy to make me feel better, which worked for a while, but it didn’t really change anything. It was complex. I was being rewarded for being bullied, but no one ever seemed to be making the bullies stop. A bag of Skittles is lovely, but it doesn’t address the often problematic experiences of being queer in a straight world.

And 48-year-old me now looks around during June to see Pride flags everywhere and rainbows stuck on everything, from brownies and socks to coffee mugs. On one level, it does make me really happy but, on another level, I wonder what's going on and why I can suddenly see rainbows everywhere. Actually, not everywhere: maybe just in places that will make money from my queerness. A few examples:

  • Hotel Chocolat, which does the best marzipan around, had a sign on the counter – a rainbow of chocolates under the heading ‘Be Brave. Be Kind’, which also had a QR code to find out more. The code took me to its corporate ED&I web page, which gives some great examples of the company’s work on gender, race and disability, but sadly no mention of LGBTQ+ folk. Despite the rainbow chocolates.

  • Nuffield Health has put a rainbow ring around its social media logos but, when I asked at my gym, none of the personal trainers are LGBTQ+.

  • EE has Pride flags in its window, but when I asked for a gay discount on my mobile bill they said no. It was worth a try though. 

Then I wondered about businesses that sell services instead of products. There’s a large financial company round the corner from where I live, with a big banner in the window that says ‘Pride – it’s more than just a month’. I have no idea what that means, so I rang them up and asked the receptionist to put me through to the person responsible for its LGBTQ+ network. She was super nice, but had no idea who that was, and said she couldn’t ask anyone because of the company’s ‘strict privacy policy’. 

What is Pride Month for anyway? And more importantly, who is it for? Companies offering sweets and toys as a way to make the bullying better don’t seem to be making much difference to the bullies. When did you last hear of someone being disciplined for homophobic behaviour? Does that mean it’s all gone away? I doubt it. It seems to me like Pride Month is now something that organisations feel they have to engage in or risk being shamed on social media, and the easiest way to do that is to stick a rainbow on something. Some organisations have Pride Month events where they display art from LGBTQ+ artists, or pay lots of money to have a float in the parade, but who is that for? Our teenage selves? Shareholders? 

At the end of the month when those flags are taken down, the rainbows are removed from the brownies and the trainers go back to being plain again, what happens? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few suggestions:

  • As a minimum, if you haven’t already, establish an LGBTQ+ network in your organisation. If you don’t have enough staff, knock on the office next door and see if they want to start one together. 

  • Use your organisational voice for good. Lobby the government to implement a full ban on conversion therapy without exception. 

  • Invite a charity like Mermaids to come and speak to your cis, heterosexual staff. And give the queer staff the day off as a thank you for putting up with years of discomfort.

  • Spend the 11 months of the year leading up to Pride Month gathering stories from your LGBTQ+ employees, asking about their experiences in the organisation and what they would like to change, and do it immediately. 

  • Make a corporate donation to Queer Britain without being named for it. 

  • Become an activist organisation. Show up at protests as well as parades. Stand up for your LGBTQ+ staff even without them asking you to. 

Then use Pride Month to showcase all the action you took during the previous year that made change happen. It’s not the end of Pride Month, it’s the start of Pride Year! Imagine how much you could achieve in 12 months instead of one. My motto for you is: ‘Don’t just make products, make a difference’ and as I take the final bite of my Pride brownie, I understand that visibility is still important. I know, it’s complex. So hang out the flags, bring out the rainbow chocolates and blow a whistle at the Pride parade. Just be sure that you’re tackling the bullies as well as giving sweets and toys to the rest of us. 

Dr Paul Taylor-Pitt is an OD specialist and founder of Metamorphosish