This year, for the second year in a row, lockdown restrictions have forced us to celebrate Pride differently. With more time spent indoors and connecting through screens, this year’s Pride Month has given us more time to reflect – looking inward on our communities and on ourselves, at what Pride means in 2021. As we near the end of Pride Month, we wanted to look back at the month’s conversations and activities and reflect on how we’ve seen things change for the LGBTQ+ community.

Edelman’s activity for Pride this year has included internal conversations with LGBTQ+ and ally colleagues, reflecting on what Pride means to them. We have been privileged to listen to some very personal perspectives from colleagues around the world, and a unifying theme has been how far we have come, and how much we owe to the rights campaigners of the past who secured the Pride LGBTQ+ people share today - while still acknowledging the huge steps to take for true, global equality.

This year has had some milestone moments for representation and awareness of LGBTQ+ issues. 2021 started with the much-anticipated new Channel 4 series, It’s A Sin, by renowned LGBTQ+ writer Russell T Davies, which became Channel 4’s most-watched drama series ever. The series gave us an intimate view into the lives of a group of twenty-something year-olds living in London during the 1980s AIDS crisis.  In a year where we were now all too familiar with the impact of pandemic scale virus transmission, this was a heartbreaking reminder of the way the community was treated at that time; denied dignity, information and proper healthcare.  

The impact that this level of representation had is significant: it contributed to an approximate 400%* increase in HIV testing in the UK (*Terrence Higgins Trust data) as well as the lowest infection rate ever in the UK, partly due to pandemic lockdown measures reducing opportunities for transmission. In a long-awaited update of the NHS Blood Donation Service, a new, more individualised risk assessment came into force on 14th June, which removes some of the barriers to donating blood that disproportionately prevented gay and bisexual men from donating based on outdated science regarding the risk of HIV transmission.

We have also seen great strides in sports, with some triumphant changes taking place, and other rights debates continuing to be fought. This year, several trans athletes have broken barriers and overcome social stigma by qualifying for the postponed Tokyo Olympics. However, New Zealand’s weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, is still subject to debate over her place on the team, despite meeting IOC requirements for trans women to compete in women’s sport, highlighting the need for greater awareness and research into equality for sportspeople of all genders.

The campaign against racism in football kept up momentum this year and is now widely supported by governing bodies, brands and broadcasters. But at the UEFA Euros 2020, when Munich tried to make a stand for LGBTQ+ rights during their hosting of the Germany vs Hungary game, UEFA shut down their plans to illuminate the Munich Allianz stadium in rainbow colours.  UEFA considered the request to be against its rules for keeping politics out of the game, since it was due to be in place specifically during the match with Hungary, where LGBTQ+ rights are currently under threat.    UEFA’s decision has been widely criticised, and in solidarity with Munich multiple venues across Munich and surrounding areas were illuminated in rainbow colours instead.  In addition, German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was investigated by UEFA after he chose to wear a rainbow armband during Euro 2020 matches to support Pride Month. The investigation was dropped but UEFA is now fighting to defend its reputation against accusations of homophobia, while balancing its responsibility to keep the European game politically neutral. 

With so much positive change happening, it is clear that in many parts of the world, the Pride movement is advancing equality. In line with this, more and more brands are using Pride Month to display solidarity with their LGBTQ+ staff and customers. But as the campaign for equality becomes more advanced, it also becomes more nuanced. It is no longer enough to simply rainbow-fy your logo – this year has also seen brands more closely scrutinised to check the authenticity of their month-long rainbow branding. Most brands have come very late to Pride. They weren't vocally supportive a decade or two ago when it carried social stigma and a risk of losing customers, but now that the heavy lifting has been done, they all want to show up to the party. The Edelman Trust Barometer research shows that 86% of people expect their CEO to lead on societal issues, but leading is about more than an annual donation and logo restyle.  Learning to tell the authentic and meaningful from the performative has been a lesson brands are learning quickly, to make sure they have real purpose in their Pride in the 11 remaining months of the year.

The symbol for Pride itself, the rainbow flag, is changing as intersectional groups of LGBTQ+ people and other communities continue to fight for true equality. Since it was first flown in 1978 at San Francisco Pride, the flag has undergone many changes. In 2017, black and brown stripes were introduced to recognise the ongoing fight for racial equality within the community, and to acknowledge the specific discrimination faced by those with this specific intersectional identity.

In 2018, artist Daniel Quasar designed the progress flag. The design incorporates the black and brown stripes plus the light blue, pink, and white colours of the trans flag arranged as chevron arrows on the left of the traditional rainbow.  This change was a significant development in not only giving greater visibility to those more marginalised members of the community, but also to recognise the impact they have had in the fight for equality - the Stonewall riots, which launched the Pride movement, were led by Black trans activists. This year, a version of the flag with a yellow triangle and purple circle has been added to represent the Intersex community. The symbolism of the flag remains the same, but as we reflect more on the intra-community inequalities, we become more articulate about the changes we wish to see in the world and the importance of representing them.

We want to wish all our fellow LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies a happy Pride Month. There is certainly a lot to celebrate and reflect on from this year, and we’re excited to look back next Pride – hopefully, with a lot more in-person events and time spent with one another – at how much more we’ve done to build a more equal world.  

Ben Franklin is a Senior Account Executive in the Edelman London Technology team. Roz Ellman is an Account Manager for the Edelman London UEG team.