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Pride and Empowerment

Taking Pride Beyond the Month

Wynnie Zhao

Project Associate, UN Global Compact Network Canada

Pride is a Protest, Celebration, and Revolution

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, police raided Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Manhattan, under a warrant investigating the alleged illegal sale of alcohol. Outrage grew within the crowds as it became clear that police were targeting bar patrons dressed in “gender-inappropriate” clothing. At that time in New York, it was illegal to wear fewer than three items of clothing “appropriate to their gender”, which frequently resulted in degrading strip searches by police.

This event sparked a series of protests which would later be known as the Stonewall Uprising. Pride Month was created in June to honour and celebrate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, two-spirit (LGBTIQ2S+) community, and the Stonewall Uprising became memorialized in history as a symbol of revolt against the erasure and unjust treatment of the LGBTIQ2S+ community.

Half a Century Later

Today, over 50 years later, the LGBTIQ2S+ community continues to face violence and erasure. In Canada, violence against the LGBTIQ2S+ community has been rising, with a 64% uptick in hate crimes targeting sexual orientation between 2019 and 2021. Family-friendly story-telling drag events hosted in libraries across Canada have been the target of hateful slurs and threats of violence. A recent event in Montreal was met with protestors, and was forced to relocate to protect the safety of its hosts and participants.

Within our labour market, there is much progress to be made. A study conducted by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion found that 30% of LGBTIQ2S+ employees reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace, compared to 3% for non-LGBTIQ2S+ employees. A study commissioned by Telus found that 37% of Canadians believed their workplace was not inclusive of lesbian and gay individuals, while 45% believed their workplace was not inclusive of transgender individuals.

Corporate Pride Month and Rainbow Washing

As June begins, we will soon be greeted with a flood of rainbow flags, catchy slogans, and Pride-themed Linkedin posts. Companies, from start-ups to multinational corporations, will join together to recognize the importance of Pride Month and highlight their work in progressing LGBTIQ2S+ rights within their workplaces.

This effort is important. Our workplaces create the environments in which we show up every day to work, interact with others, and form relationships. Businesses can dictate culture and set the precedent for societal expectations, and reinforce social norms and stereotypes. Armed with resources and influence, the private sector has an important role and responsibility in leading the way in creating inclusive and diverse workplaces.

With the increased attention to LGBTIQ2S+-focused work during Pride Month, it is important to remain critical of any performative actions taken by companies or “rainbow-washing”. Rainbow-washing exists when a company shows public support for the LGBTIQ2S+ community through social media actions or changing their logos, however they do not back up these statements with tangible action within their organization. This is often done to gain social recognition or credibility, and to boost one’s brand and reputation.

In order to combat performative actions, companies should work to ensure they are translating the values they declare into substantive organizational change. This can include investing time and resources into inclusive initiatives, implementing supportive policies and ensuring they are embedded across the organization, and using your company’s voice to advocate for important issues within your communities and on a national-level.

Taking Pride Beyond the Month

The UN Global Compact believes that LGBTIQ2S+ rights are human rights, and that inclusive workplaces are critical to creating resilient and competitive organizations. To guide companies on their inclusion journey, the UN Global Compact has created the UN LGBTIQ+ Standards Gap Analysis Tool, a free and accessible tool that helps companies assess current policies and programmes, highlight areas for improvement, and identify opportunities to set future corporate goals and targets. This tool allows companies to build capacity and advance LGBTIQ2S+ rights in the workplace, marketplace, and community on an ongoing basis.

While the values of Pride Month should no doubt be instilled year-round, this month gives us all the opportunity to celebrate and amplify the experiences of the LGBTIQ2S+ community, while taking the time to reflect on our internal biases and preconceived ideas. We must use this time to build solidarity within the movement, and integrate inclusive actions into the fabric of our institutions and our daily lives.

Solidarity is not the same as support. To experience solidarity, we must have a community of interests, shared beliefs and goals around which to unite, to build Sisterhood. Support can be occasional. It can be given and just as easily withdrawn. Solidarity requires sustained, ongoing commitment.

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