Should you create a Rainbow version of your logo this Pride?

February and March each year bring the anticipated slew of rainbow decorations adorning our streets, office spaces and social media as Aotearoa and Australia celebrate their annual Pride months. 

I’ve just returned from a few days in Sydney, and the usual Pride decorations had been ramped up by a factor of ten with the city hosting World Pride 2023. The Sydney Airport Corporation’s logo (the letters ‘SYD’, its international airport code, for those unfamiliar) had been given a glow-up with the trans flag and rainbow flag colours greeting me as I stepped off a budget flight across the Tasman. The cars in my Uber app were represented by the pride progress flag. Zara’s large street frontage in downtown Sydney invited me to celebrate pride by shopping with them.

Suffice it to say, even if I hadn’t been travelling to Sydney for a rainbow philanthropy conference, I would likely have picked up that a significant Pride event was happening. Which is, of course, part of the point. 

For those who cannot be open about who they are and live freely at home, work, and in other countries, this visible celebration of queer identities can be incredibly powerful. I know, I’ve felt it a few times in my life – the first time walking in the 2010 Sydney Pride Parade, my first time leading a group of young people with RainbowYOUTH in the 2013 Auckland Pride Parade, and when local rainbow community organisations and Aotearoa’s government supported an international rainbow conference to be hosted in Te Whanganui-a-Tara during the Wellington Pride Festival in 2019. 

No doubt, these celebrations uplift the mental health of some. However, as I get older, wiser (and probably, grumpier) the more I peel back the rainbow wrapping from businesses using a designated time of awareness like Pride month to do things like this. I want to explore the intentions behind it. 

The intent behind the rainbow logo

On some level, most of us understand that this rainbow dressing is an attempt to get us to buy products, use services, and attract tourists. Certainly, Auckland Pride’s logo on a packet of Oreos has been added to my shopping trolley. The themed flights operated by Air New Zealand from Auckland to Sydney have an element of creating a desirable workplace for rainbow staff. But, at what point should we expect from those who use our rainbow culture to profit?

When I see logos given the rainbow cellophane treatment, I want to ask questions such as: What are the experiences of your rainbow customers and the staff on the lowest wages? How do your systems and staff police gender? For multinational companies, what support is offered to those staff in countries without access to rights and protections under the law? What does the company do to counter the harmful narratives propagated by gender-critical groups? 

With these questions, I’m looking for an acknowledgement from these businesses that rainbow people are something more than a happy, homogenous group with disposable income. I’m looking for an acknowledgement of our communities value when we inform your engagement strategies. I’m looking for an acknowledgement of businesses’ role in creating safety for rainbow whānau at a time of increasing violence and anti-trans rhetoric here in Aotearoa and internationally. 

Flags as safety markers

The rainbow flag is significant in our lesbian, gay, queer, rainbow (and more) cultural identities. Alongside reclaimed symbols such as the pink triangle, they have been used to represent safe spaces when most were not safe. The transgender flag, pride progress flag, intersex flag, bear flag, asexual, pansexual, bisexual, and more flags have emerged in recent years, expanding the role of this cultural symbol. When I come across any of these flags displayed by a business or institution, it is important to me that they comprehend the significance of the symbols beyond just celebratory purposes.

Beyond the rainbow

Examining my inbox, a newsletter from Narrative Muse on the theme Exploring the intersection of Black History and LGBTQI+ Pride stands out for its awareness of the intersections of our shared histories. Spark’s long-term commitment to supporting the phone and chat line services of OutLine is another example, going beyond a one-off marketing activation. Expansive approaches that demonstrate a nuanced perspective informed by those with lived experience do much more to create safe spaces than simply applying rainbow cellophane to a logo. It’s worth noting that neither Narrative Muse nor Spark created a rainbow version of their logos.

More than once, I have been asked for feedback on an organisation’s rainbow logo and marketing activities. The visible excitement present in the inevitable marketing person’s eyes places a heavy burden on rainbow people to disrupt, educate, and disappoint at that moment. Not everyone is confident and strong enough to respond with more than an “it’s fine” at that moment. Meaningful support for rainbow communities can have a marketing component but must be connected to your organisation’s strategy and purpose, have involved (and not burdened) your rainbow stakeholders, and have considered the wider context in which rainbow people exist.

So, consider your motives carefully before deciding to create a rainbow version of your logo this Pride. Simply adding a rainbow to your branding can be seen as exploiting those in our rainbow communities with disposable income. To make a real impact and meet the diverse expectations of our communities, meaningful action is necessary beyond the copy-paste of a cultural symbol.

Duncan Matthews

Thanks and acknowledgements to Toni Duder for their support in crafting this blog post.

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