This Pride Month Feels a Little Bit Different

June is Pride Month in the United States, and as an out queer person, I’ve always looked at June as a moment for deep(er) reflection. How far have we come as a country on LGBTQ+ equality? What rights or comforts are at stake on a local or national level for me and other queer people? What more could I be doing as an individual to ensure that we don’t lose progress on the advances we’ve made for LGBTQ+ rights over the past few decades?

If you’re a person who falls under the LGBTQ+ or allied umbrella, I’m sure these thoughts sound familiar to you, too.

For the past few years, when late May rolls around, I’m reminded that Pride Month is right around the corner. My social media feed gets inundated with flyers promoting Pride festivals and concerts, de facto graphics from multinational corporations touting their allyship with the LGBTQ+ community, and ads from big-box retailers showing off what Pride-themed apparel they have in stock.

Like the tides of the oceans, these posts come rolling in fiercely leading up to and throughout June before slowly dissipating back into the collective social media sea; Pride has felt more like a seasonal marketing opportunity over the past few years than a celebration of LGBTQ+ equality, culture, and achievement.

But this year feels a little different. I’ve noticed fewer posts from big, national brands promoting Pride Month, and the viral posts clamoring over Pride-themed apparel seem to be nonexistent. And it turns out there’s a reason for that.

According to this article from the Associated Press, stores and brands have toned down their Pride offerings this year amid some high-profile blowback that Target, Bud Light, and Nike received last year when collaborating with LGBTQ+ artists and celebrities. The article also suggests that some brands are keenly aware of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and sentiment across the country and don’t want to be caught in the crossfire of a customer base with widely competing views.

The article also suggests that the toned-down nature of Pride themes this year may not be a net-loss, allowing brands and stores to focus on more sustained LGBTQ+ support throughout the year. “It’s not dropping the support,” said Barbara Kahn, a marketing professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who is quoted in the article. “But they’re dropping the spotlight.”

On one hand, this makes perfect business sense. Brands don’t want to alienate potential customers, which could affect their bottom line. As a queer person, I remember what being in the closet is like; self-preservation feels innate, intrinsic, and the goal for many in the closet is to just get through the day unscathed.

On the other hand, I could make arguments in support of visibility and representation, which are incredibly important and have profound, positive impacts on consumers of media and merchandise. To see oneself reflected in marketing and advertising in an authentic way is very powerful, and can help make us feel less alone or othered.

I can’t argue whether businesses and brands toning down support of Pride this year is a precursor to more sustained LGBTQ+ support throughout the rest of the year—that remains to be seen, and there are marketing and data analysts who are far more qualified to make that determination than I will ever be.

The one thing I can say for certain is that nitpicking whether a particular brand is pandering to LGBTQ+ people or showing authentic support is a privilege and luxury. Despite the many advances we have made as a country in pursuit of LGBTQ+ equality, those hard-fought victories for our rights are never a guarantee and they’re currently under attack by a motivated Christian nationalist base and a judiciary that seems okay with upending decades of precedent (see Roe v. Wade).

Pride 2024 is occurring against a backdrop of anti-LGBTQ+ laws being proposed across the country, many of which target transgender people. Often, these proposed bills fall under the guise of “religious freedom.”

As humanists, it is so important for us to show unwavering support for LGBTQ+ people throughout all months of the year, and to always be mindful of when and how Christian nationalists try to chip away at our rights, and the rights of other minority groups, under the pretense of religious freedom.

Let’s celebrate and be merry, but let’s also never forget what could be lost in an instant. Happy Pride Month to all!