According to US government data, 20 million US adults identify as LGBTQIA+. Each year as Pride Month rolls around, countless beauty brands begin to add an array of rainbows to their SKUs, marketing these products in proposed support of Queer members of society and their rights. In recent years, Gen Z—of which 21% say their sexuality aligns with the LGBTQIA+ community—have begun to study these campaigns, products, and marketing strategies, cracking down on businesses they feel are rainbow washing. As a result, brands involving themselves in Pride Month are now having to prove their values and beliefs, no longer being able to get away with simply placing a rainbow across their product packaging as a means of showing support.
"Every facet of your organization should be representing the people that you say your beauty products are for because Queer people aren't just walking wallets to give you money and pat you on the back for having a float in a parade," Junior Mintt, founder of Mintty Makeup, wrote for BeautyMatter. "In essence, if you want to consider yourself an ally, put your money where your mouth is, not just your marketing. My piece of advice, take half the money that you spend trying to market towards us and spend it on supporting and uplifting the community that you want to support you. Marketing means nothing to Queer people when we don't know where our next meal is coming from, or how we're going to make it to the next day."
Progress has been made, with several brands looking beyond profit, creating campaigns that champion inclusivity and stand up against anti-LGBTQIA+ messages. Most recently, NYX Professional Makeup created its second metaverse activation for Pride Month, the Game Out Loud campaign, condemning bullying of LGBTQIA+ members in online gaming hubs and encouraging a safe space on Roblox for these people to express themselves without fear of harassment. The launch comes under the brand's Proud Allies for All umbrella, a partnership with the LA LGBT Center, which has created community events, volunteering, and training across several years and donated over $500,000 to various LGBTQIA+ charities globally.
While it is positive that the industry is moving towards genuinely inclusive campaigns, 2023's Pride month has unveiled further disingenuous practices from those claiming they support the LGBTQIA+ community. This has resulted from an analysis of big corporations' spending, including Walmart, Amazon, and CVS, who have been found to be funding millions to anti-LGBTQIA+ politicians and bills, which came to light in a recent Popular Information article. The piece highlighted that Walmart had donated $650,250, Amazon $488,000, and CVS $479,500 to politicians with zero ratings on the Human Rights Campaign's LGBTQ scorecard, of which many have personally signed anti-LGBTQIA+ bills and legislations within their states. Of course, many have negatively reacted to this, highlighting the irony of such retailers stocking Pride beauty collections and profiting off of them, using this money to sponsor homophobic bills and politicians.
Target has also come under fire for its approach to Pride month. The retailer initially displayed a Pride collection consisting of Pride-inspired garments with the message "Celebrate Pride Month, Target Takes Pride." However, several stores have now removed their collections and displays after anti-LGBTQIA+ groups destroyed the arrangements. Many feel that doing so was the wrong choice, only encouraging and rewarding those committing these hate crimes by giving them what they want at a time when these types of crimes are on the rise.
In response, Target said that the removal of products was for the sake of staff safety, "Since introducing this year's collection, we've experienced threats impacting our team members' sense of safety and wellbeing while at work," an official statement read. "Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.”
Despite the clarification, several consumers are still not happy, choosing to boycott these stores and purchase directly from brands' websites or stores that are pushing positive LGBTQIA+ messages through their collections. BeautyMatter rounds up 2023's standout Pride campaigns that are making a genuine positive impact:
The Body Shop: The body care brand celebrated Pride month through its Free to Be campaign, uplifting drag personalities in response to the rising anti-drag legislation that is sweeping across US states, working to ban public drag performances. The campaign partnered with New York-based drag performers Angel Au and Lana Ja'Rae, as well as Toronto-based Makayla Couture. The drag personalities took to The Body Shop stores, sharing their stories with customers in person and across the brand's social media platforms.
Free to Be encouraged consumers to back the Equality Act, which is believed to be the most important act in the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights. Customers are able to support the brand's advocacy efforts by visiting its digital action hub, which includes a form and pre-populated email to Congress demanding the passing of the Equality Act. As well as this, $1 from every sale of The Body Shop's Out for Love highlighters will be donated to the Equity Federations efforts to advance pro-LGBTQIA+ policies. The Free to Be campaign comes after 2022's We Don't Just Say Gay campaign, which fought against the harmful Don't Say Gay bill, which bans schools from teaching students about sexual orientations and gender identities from Kindergarten to the third grade.
"The ugly attacks on Queer expression at large strike right at the heart of The Body Shop's brand ethos of inclusivity, equality, and empowerment," says Hilary Lloyd, Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Responsibility for The Body Shop North America. "This Pride, we celebrate drag performers and the LGBTQIA+ community as valued members of our community and champions of our self-love movement. We are advocates for equality, full stop, so using our collective voice to advocate for our LGBTQIA+ customers, community members, and allies is a year-round priority for us."
Benefit Cosmetics: Focusing on the message that contributions to Pride month should directly include Queer creators, Benefit Cosmetics partnered with Sofie Birkin, a Queer British illustrator, for their 2023 efforts. Birkin's work focuses heavily on the narratives of Queerness, themes of fantasy, community, intimacy, and empowerment through vivid, eye-catching illustrations. The collaboration allowed for Birkin's work to be showcased on the Benefit Cosmetics float at the San Francisco Pride Parade, decorating the float and the merchandise worn by employees taking part. The illustrations also featured the outfits of employees marching in Pride parades across Germany, Mexico, and Spain. On top of this, the cosmetics company donated $10,000 dollars to the LGBTQIA+ charity of Birkin's choice, The Trevor Project, a leading suicide prevention organization for young LGBTQIA+ members who may be struggling.
MAC Cosmetics: MAC Cosmetics launched a Day of Giving on June 9, on which day the brand donated 100% of all lipstick sales worldwide to organizations that benefit the LGBTQIA+ community, pushing to establish equality for all sexualities and genders. The initiative was an extension of the brand's Viva Glam program, in which they donate 100% of the proceeds of the Viva Glam lipstick to charities supporting women, girls, and LGBTQIA+ people. The program began in 1994, with RuPaul as the first ambassador, raising money for the MAC AIDS fund. "MAC is proud to be a place where LGBTQIA+ people have been welcomed since day one," says Aïda Moudachirou-Reboi, Global Chief Marketing Officer at MAC. "RuPaul was our first Viva Glam spokesperson in 1994, someone you would not typically see as the face of a beauty brand at that time. And for us at MAC, Pride is both about celebrating the progress we have made as a community and fighting for the many rights and freedoms still to be won."
To date, the company has worked with several big names, including Lady Gaga and Lil' Kim, raising $500 million for the cause and funding more than 1,800 organizations supporting equal rights. This is the first time the Viva Glam program has been expanded beyond its namesake product, including all 200 lipstick SKUs the brand has.
Lottie London: According to research by Lottie London, 46% of LGBTQIA+ Gen Zers have experienced bullying and harassment. Hoping to aid the fight to stop this, Lottie London partnered with the Kaleidoscope Trust for the third year running. The trust is a charity working to uphold the human rights of LGBTQIA+ people across the Commonwealth, working with governments, change-makers, and civil society organizations in the UK and abroad to implement meaningful and lasting change in the lives of LGBTQIA+ people.
To support the charity, Lottie London's Pride collection, including face gems, eyeshadow palettes, and lip glosses, gave 10% of purchase proceeds to the Kaleidoscope Trust during the month of June. On top of this, all models within the promotion for the collection were members of the LGBTQIA+ community, allowing real voices to be heard and enabled to shine.
Makeup For Ever: In honor of Pride, Makeup For Ever is contributing 1% of all of its US and Canada brand sales during the month of June to its Makeup For Ever Scholarship Fund. Originally launched in 2022, the scholarship offers opportunities for makeup and artistry education at a makeup school of the recipient's choice, encouraging the LGBTQIA+ community to express themselves through makeup. In addition to covering two recipients' schooling fees, each person will also receive the entire collection of Makeup For Ever products to help build their professional collection and kick-start their career. The opportunity to receive the scholarship was open for anyone who wished to enter, further pushing the brand's incentive that everyone is entitled to such an education, regardless of their race, gender, or sexuality. The 2022 winners, Bry Molina and Eibar Caraballo, have gone on to become the faces of this year's campaign, showcasing their standout makeup looks within promotional imagery.
Aesop: To highlight the voices of LGBTQIA+ voices, Aesop has once again opened its empowering Queer Library in London. The library was founded through the belief in the “transformative power of queer storytelling, and its ability to broaden minds, emboldening individuals and uniting the community and its allies.” All books featured within the space have been purchased from Gay’s the Word, the UK’s oldest LGBTQIA+ bookstore, which opened in 1979; Pilot Press, a nonprofit imprint specializing in contemporary and historic Queer writing; Fourteen Poems, a London-based Queer poetry journal; and Cipher Press, an independent publisher of writing by Queer and trans-identifying writers. All visitors are invited to take home a complimentary title in-store, with no purchase required to qualify for this.
In addition to the physical store, Aesop enlisted A Vibe Called Tech, a Black-owned creative agency, to showcase two historial Queer texts featured in the library on their website. The texts are A Place for Us by Isabel Miller, a story of a lesbian relationship in the early 19th century, and Escape to an Autumn Pavement by Andrew Salkey, a book exploring sexuality in Caribbean culture against a backdrop of a changing London. A Vibe Called Tech also curated a panel discussion hosted by its founder Charlene Prempeh and Creative Director Lewis Dalton Gilbert, with novelist and critic Mendez, poet and writer Erica Gillingham, and writer, lecturer, and researcher Dr. Peter Ely entitled ‘Repeated Histories.” The roundtable event explored the importance of retelling, preserving and responding to stories from marginalized communities that were once overlooked. Aesop’s shared highlights from the event to its digital channels, continuing the dialogue beyond the physical library.
Givenchy Beauty: The luxury brand created an immersive experience on Spatial to celebrate this year's Pride Month. Accessible to all until July 6, the event is a virtual art exhibition, created to showcase the work of LGBTQIA+ artists. Featuring the art of Vanille Verloës, SamJ, and Edgar Fabian Frias, the exhibition can be accessed via Spatial on mobile or desktop, and does not require visitors to have an account. Those attending the virtual space are given the opportunity to take part in a quest to find hidden elements, and earn collectable digital gifts that can be shown on their Spatial profile. Of those who choose to take part in the quest, one member will be awarded an exclusive surprise gift, set to be revealed at the end of the digital exhibition. The experience is not the first time Givenchy Beauty has gone digital for its Pride celebrations; in 2022, the brand collaborated with gallery owner Amar Signh to launch NFTs Pride and Pride II, a series of animated portraits reinterpreted with the colors of the rainbow.
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