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Intersectionality & how brands are authentic during and after Pride Month

by Caitlin Berry & Caroline Foley, Khoros Strategic Services | Jun 30, 2021

After Instagram introduced a dedicated section of Instagram profiles where users can display their pronouns, mentions of “pronouns” increased by 54% on Twitter over the next week — kicking off renewed conversations about the importance of pronoun inclusion and equality.

When we talk about using pronouns, we’re focused on using pronouns that people identify with in our everyday language. For example, I’m Caroline Foley, and my pronouns are she/her. So if you’re talking about me, you could say, “When I saw Caroline at the coffee shop, she bought a matcha latte — her favorite drink!” Similar to how we’ve adjusted to saying “sexual orientation” as opposed to “sexual preference,” we should opt to ask for someone’s pronouns instead of their “preferred pronouns” to denote that we understand gender identity isn’t a choice.

Your pronouns could be he/his, they/them, she/them, or another combination, and at the end of the day, correct gender pronoun usage communicates respect. They’re best used when people of all genders can share theirs to decrease “othering” non-gender binary individuals. If only gender non-conforming people feel obligated to share their pronouns, we’ve suggested that binary pronouns (he/his and she/hers) are natural, default, and normal, while we know gender is a spectrum of masculinity and feminity that varies across cultures, location, and time.

In September 2019, Merriam-Webster added the non-binary “they” pronoun to the dictionary, “declaring the pronoun may be used to refer to a ‘single person whose gender identity is nonbinary” (Washington Post). “They” as a singular pronoun isn’t new and actually dates back to 1375. Here’s an example of how to use singular “they:” “After Alex drove to the gym, they realized they forgot to bring their sneakers with them.”

While it may feel awkward to ask for someone’s pronouns for the first time, it’s helpful to approach the conversation by sharing your pronouns, too. If you don’t know someone’s gender, try introducing yourself and saying, “Hi, I’m Caroline and my pronouns are she/her. What are your pronouns?” Even if you’re cisgender, sharing your pronouns is a great way to acknowledge their importance. The simple act of partaking in the exchange and asking can go a long way.

Why are pronouns important to marketers?

As brands show increased interest in demonstrating their commitment to purpose-driven strategies and consumers demand for companies to act on certain issues, corporations risk inauthentic and performative criticism — especially if the company doesn’t do their proper research and care of sensitive and social topics.

As members of the LGBTQ+ community expressed frustration with “rainbow washing” or “rainbow capitalism” this year ahead of Pride 2021, many companies were quick to highlight diverse talent or employees within marketing campaigns alongside the inclusion of pronouns — but how many of these brands will continue to feature these communities and pronoun usage in content year-round?

To establish a brand as an ally to the LGBTQ+, companies need to do the work. This means understanding how the corporation is positioned within issues that affect the community. This means assessing how friendly and welcoming the company has been to the community — employees and customers. This means taking real action, not making empty promises, and making tangible change for the community and following up with updates on progress.

MODERATION & CONTENT PLANS

If your brand wants to feature diverse individuals in a Pride campaign, make sure you know the following:

  • The pronouns of your featured talent/employees in content and community management

  • What your brand will do if a follower deliberately or unknowingly misgenders the talent in the comment section


How will you protect the featured individual, show up for this moment, and exhibit your commitment to safeguard this community? Before you post about Pride, have a plan in place. Assess your risk. What type of comments should you hide? What type of comments does the brand feel comfortable firmly taking a stance and potentially challenging a customer?

Unless you’re a nonprofit or an organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ topics of interest, it’s probably safe to say that your brand isn’t the end-all and be-all expert in all things related to gender. And that’s totally fine. Brands shouldn’t pretend to be experts in areas they aren’t. What they should do is demonstrate commitments to listening, learning, improving, and acting.

If your brand still feels new to issues related to gender identity, you don’t have to hold the mic — pass the mic to an expert or a representative that can speak more to the issues.

If your content or moderation gets called out for incorrect pronoun usage, don’t delete and pretend it didn’t happen. Acknowledge the comment. Thank your community for raising awareness, learn from them, and let them know how you’re making a change to content.

Want to learn more? Here’s a few definitions to get familiar with from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)’s Media Reference Guide (10th Edition)

GENDER IDENTITY

A person's internal, deeply held sense of their gender. For transgender people, their own internal gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Most people have a gender identity of man or woman (or boy or girl). For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into one of those two choices.

GENDER NON-CONFORMING

A term used to describe some people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity

NON-BINARY AND/OR GENDERQUEER

Terms used by some people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman. They may define their gender as falling somewhere in between man and woman, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms.

Conversations about the importance of intersectionality continue to rise as people in the LGBTQ+ community further define their own identities. From April to June 2020, conversations about intersectionality increased by 292%, with 6% of these conversations centering specifically around the Black and LGBTQ+ communities.

What is intersectionality?

The concept of intersectionality is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

“the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersectespecially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups”

The term has gained prevalence over recent years, particularly in the LGBTQ+ community. The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the COVID-19 pandemic both ignited conversations around intersectionality over the past year. The events of last year have led people to talk more about how their racial, sexual, or gender identities (among others) can combine to exacerbate discrimination or isolation from others.

For many people, intersectionality means talking about their identities in a cohesive manner. In my case, my intersectional identities serve as a helpful tool for reminding myself of my inherent privilege in a variety of spaces — I’m Caitlin Berry, and I’m a cisgendered, heterosexual, white woman. For others, naming intersectional identities could do the opposite, helping to explain inherent disadvantages.

Intersectionality

While it may feel uncomfortable or complicated to explore and talk about intersectionality at first, it’s important to engage in these discussions as a way of highlighting a person’s whole identity and identifying shared or different experiences based on that.

Why is intersectionality important to marketers?

Intersectionality should be top of mind for marketers for two reasons: comprehensiveness and consistency. Essentially, incorporating intersectionality into your brand campaigns is part of being an authentic, long-term community partner, instead of coming off as performative or as “rainbow washing” to take advantage of a moment.

As Black Lives Matter protests and gatherings continued into June 2020, the LGBTQ+ community showed solidarity with the Black community by organizing marches and uplifting Black voices, often referencing that Pride itself began as a protest. Brands like Netflix, who put together a special benefitting the Marsha P. Johnson Foundation and elevating members of the Black LGBTQ+ community like Laverne Cox, mirrored this celebration of intersectionality.

How, though, can brands continue this concept after Pride Month and into year-round content?

As a brand, being a true ally to the LGBTQ+ community means doing the work. In the case of intersectionality, this means being intentional about continuing to highlight partners and talent who are part of the community and acknowledging their identities in year-round content. This doesn’t mean that every campaign you run should be solely centered on the LGBTQ+ community. This could also be seen as performative and dismissive of other groups. What it does mean is making sure that June isn’t the only time your audience sees this community in your content — that you’re making them a normalized part of your brand presence.

As you make content decisions, one thing to be mindful of is that there may be moments when community members pushback or feel like their moment is being taken from them because they’re sharing it with someone else. Remember to be empathetic towards these comments, and double down on your support for both communities. Hopefully, you’ll see less of these concerns and more appreciation for inclusion in the long run, as you begin to establish your brand as a community advocate.

By being intentional, with both identification and intersectionality, your brand can continue to be an authentic ally year-round for the LGBTQ+ community.

Yes, it takes work, and yes, some conversations may be awkward at first, but that’s part of showing up. Brands need to remember that part of authentic support is being willing to learn and grow into being a true ally. It doesn’t happen overnight and you won’t get it right all the time. So, while you’re learning along with the rest of us, make sure you’re keeping the following in mind:

  1. Pronouns matter. For everyone. Normalize their use in a respectful and accurate manner to show support.


  1. Intersectionality is important. As you look to continue your support throughout the year, expounding on intersectional identities can be a helpful way to extend visibility for the LGBTQ community.


Year-round support is essential. This is the most important one. No one will take your brand seriously as an LGBTQ ally if you’re not talking about the community and their struggles consistently. Support isn’t a once-a-year box to check, it’s a long-term commitment.


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