Opinion Piece by Clayton Mercieca
June is now synonymous with Pride Month (or truly, the beginning of Pride Season) and as expected, we are seeing some companies donning pride coloured logos and posting they're supporting "Pride Month" on their social media pages.
I was left wondering how a company supports "Pride Month". Are you supporting the month or the movement behind it? Are you simply saying we accept everyone? Acceptance comes in many forms and attitudes, and honestly, it is the bare minimum that any company should do towards every human being on this planet. No one can be discriminated against and that is enshrined in our constitution.
If you're saying that you're supporting the movement, I'm sorry to say that neither of the LGBTIQ organisations operating here in Malta mentioned anything of your support and therefore we are left to our devices to call out what needs to be called out - a purely Pinkwashing exercise.
For those who never heard this term before, pink washing, in the context of LGBTIQ rights, is used to describe a variety of marketing and political strategies aimed at promoting products, countries, people or entities through an appeal to gay-friendliness, in order to be perceived as progressive, modern and tolerant.
As part of the Malta Pride team, we walk on a very tight rope when it comes to pink-washing. We have seen a number of pride organisations around the world who become a multi-million euro endeavour at the cost of being trampled upon by corporations and thus leaving a very little voice to LGBTIQ grassroots. It is a very delicate balance and slippery slope once the wrong decisions are taken. We make sure that any partner on-board in supporting Pride is not just supporting us financially or in-kind to organise events during Pride Week, but also ensuring consistency in their policies, recruitment procedures and the willingness and commitment for diversity training, amongst other things.
So here is a non-exhaustive list of suggestions how companies can truly be supporters of "Pride":
1) DONATE to any LGBTIQ movement in Malta. These are mainly: Allied Rainbow Communities, the Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement, LGBTI+ Gozo, Checkpoint Malta, Drachma LGBTIQ & Drachma Parents Group and Aditus Foundation.
2) Ensure your policies and procedures go beyond the bare minimum of what's in the law, and this goes as far and wide depending on your budgets and your HR's creativity. To spark off some ideas, these can be:
periodical diversity training programmes;
providing opportunities to people within the LGBTIQ community who could not have formal and non-formal education to have any career prospects;
When creating marketing campaigns to show your LGBTIQ friendliness, ensure that you rope in the target audience concerned.
Create a diversity network within your organisation to support staff who are part of a minority.
3) Engage with activists and see how you can provide a platform to amplify their voices. Although Malta's LGBTIQ's legislation ranks 1st in the world, there is still a lot of hate, ignorance and prejudice as we have seen of late.
4) You can also influence change for the better in countries where LGBTIQ-Phobia is state-sponsored. If you're part of a franchise or a multinational company, ensure that you support activists from those countries and lobby for change by using your stakeholder power with policy makers.
5) Support LGBTIQ entrepreneurs! In Malta we lack queer spaces where we can meet, have a drink and make connections. Saying that everywhere on this island is gay-friendly just doesn't cut it. It's not enough. We need a few more spaces where the community knows that at any point they will find others from the tribe. We've become too dependent on dating apps that leave much to be desired and only increase our social anxiety to meet new people. If you could support LGBTIQ entrepreneurs to open up queer-centred facilities, that would be amazing!
6) Be part of a network! If you feel entitled to say you're supporting Pride because you're an lgbtiq business owner but you're not really saying it because you fear that you will loose clientele, then we still have a problem in this country. Nevertheless, you could be gay and still not knowledgeable on how you can be more inclusive (this applies to everyone and not just businesses). At Allied Rainbow Communities we're slowly building up a directory of LGBTIQ inclusive businesses on our portal gaymalta.com. If you want to be part of this directory to also direct LGBTIQ tourists visiting Malta, feel free to get in touch.
7) Support Queer Art! Pay a Drag Artist to perform at your venue. We're slowly seeing the emergence of drag artists here in Malta after many years of hiatus. Drag is an expensive art form and exposure alone is not enough.
Pink washing can also be an exercise done by governmental authorities. Tel Aviv is a clear example where thousands of dollars are funnelled into their Pride event by their tourist authority to attracting millions of gay tourists and yet several LGBTIQ rights are lacking in the country. As an LGBTQ organisation, we recognise the significant progress made by the Maltese Government since 2013, yet we remain critical when things are too slow or not really translating from paper to action.
Let us also not forget that although our rights have been recognised, ignorance and prejudice still prevails. We may currently be going through a favourable phase of having people at the helm supporting the progress towards equality but it just takes one person in power to change the whole narrative of a nation.
Trump and the USA is a case in point.