This month, people marched across London in the culmination of Pride. But in the lead up to the festivities, the organisers faced some pretty fierce criticism for this year’s Love Happens Here campaign. The PR company behind the campaign apologised after receiving complaints about the centring of straight people’s voices, the use of homophobic slurs and stereotypes, and the exclusion of trans* stories.
Sounds kind of like the opposite of Pride, right?
There are some juicy lessons in this experience for a framing geek like me. And they chime pretty well with a lot of the lessons we’ve learnt over the past couple of years in our Framing Equality project (read more here).
1. Personal stories are a winner (but whose stories are we hearing?)
Stories create connection. They’re mini manifestos, outlining beliefs, principles and values. Their ability to tug at our heart strings and make us go ‘oh yeah, me too!’ can create a sense of shared identity and purpose, even bridging previous divisions. So the fact that the campaign was centred on people’s voices (e.g. ‘Now my daughter has married another woman I’ve gained another daughter!’) was a good start.
But the voices in focus were mostly straight (and presumably cis) people expressing support and acceptance. There didn’t seem to be any trans* or bisexual voices, which is problematic because it’s what’s in the frame that gives a sense of what we’re highlighting as our focus to other people. And if people other than straight, cis, gay and lesbian voices are intended to also be the focus, they need to be included: if the point of Pride is to celebrate the diversity of the community, and/or to push for change, then the frames need to encompass that.
2. It’s about more than words
Framing isn’t just about words. I don’t believe that a place is inclusive and welcoming just because there’s a sign on the door that tells me that’s the case. There can be all sorts of subtle clues that frame whether a space welcomes me (and will keep me safe) or not. I believe a place is inclusive and welcoming based on whether I need anything to get in, how I’m treated when I’m there, whether I’m made to feel as though my voice is important, and who (or what) else is in the space. Are my friends there? Are there people there who have oppressed or marginalised me? Do I need lots of money to go?
In 2014, Barclay’s Bank became a major sponsor (and remain one today); in 2015, Pride was criticised for inviting UKIP – a historically homophobic party – to have an official presence in the parade; and in 2016, they invited the Red Arrows of the RAF to fly above the event, as well as allowing BAE Systems, one of the UK’s largest arms manufacturers, to march….
“While street parties, celebration and visibility can be radical acts, seeing groups like the police, arms companies and big corporations like BP who pollute and damage the lives of queer people all over the world marching with their company logos and rainbow flags in Pride is deeply shocking,” [Kat Hobbs] says, on behalf of No Pride In War. Amelia Abraham
The associations created between LGBTI equality and the sponsors of Pride is a key piece of the framing of not just Pride, but of its sponsors, and of the broader political and economic system we live in.
Broad corporate sponsorship sends a message of a tolerant, accepting society in which citizens (or consumers, at least) live side-by-side as equals. For the sponsors themselves, it’s a great (and easy) marketing message: we’re the bank / chocolate / military group / political party for you!
These messages both hide the continuing inequalities and marginalisation faced by LGBTI people, and risk excluding and alienating those who may have experienced marginalisation or oppression at the hands of these very same groups. These people are also likely to be the most vulnerable (e.g. LGBTI people in precarious work, with refugee status, or who have experienced oppression at the hands of the military).
3. Don’t think of an elephant
Here’s an easy one. If you ask people not to think of something, including stereotypes and prejudices, even to say that it isn’t true, they can’t help but think it anyway. It simply serves to reinforce the existing belief.
And the belief that being LGBTI+ is contagious and can be caught was one that cropped up a fair amount in our Framing Equality work. It underpins all sorts of LGBTI-phobic responses, such as resistance to sexuality and identity being discussed in schools.
So don’t do this ^. At a glance, the words I see are homosexuality, contagious and hatred. Not words that you want to create stronger associations between.
4. Stay woke: oppression is structural and intersectional
Humour and subversion have often been key in social movements of resistance. But messaging that uses a homophobic slur as an insult—Being homophobic is soooo gay—or hackneyed objectification—My gay friends make me look more attractive by association—isn’t funny or subversive. It simply reinforces homophobic beliefs.
Gay Man, Straight Man, we’re all HuMan is a nice sentiment, and perhaps even factually correct. But it’s also an obfuscation: our societies systematically disadvantage and marginalise people who don’t fit the heteronormative ideal (and not people who ‘love pizza’), so gay and straight people’s experience isn’t the same (whether you ‘care’ or not).
And Love Happens Here is a truism: people will love anywhere and everywhere, whether they’re allowed or not. But it’s what’s outside of (and obscured by) this frame that’s important. Because LGBTI equality isn’t all about love any more than it’s all about ukuleles. Love is the least threatening piece of a much broader vision that includes questioning traditional understandings of gender, gender roles, relationships, sex, and identity. LGBTI people experience the world through multiple, intersecting identities: through their race or ethnicity, gender, class, age, employment status (and the list goes on). Love Happens Here is reductive and exclusive: it says ‘we recognise your love’; not ‘we recognise your identity’ or ‘we stand in solidarity with your struggles’.
The way we frame our campaigns needs to be aligned with our vision for the society we want to see, and that vision should encompass the complexities and nuances of the communities we seek to represent. Otherwise we’re just leaving people behind.
5. Framing is power (and we have power!)
Framing is decision-making, agenda-setting, space-creating. Framing is power. So it matters who’s in the room doing it, and how it’s done. The framing of Pride as all about love, or about the acceptance of straight, cis people, is an expression of power: a choice made by a certain group of people, which may not have been made by another group.
Luckily, power isn’t just created or expressed through the kind of framing that happens behind closed doors, by small numbers of people with lots of money. It’s also created by the kind of framing that is done by large groups of people with pens and cardboard.
Events like Peckham Pride and Trans Pride are spaces where more marginalised groups within the LGBTI community get to frame the story their own way like this. But shouldn’t their stories be heard within the broader community too? To be part of the LGBTI community and to have everyone cheering that you can love whoever you want when your most pressing concerns are having your identity legally recognised–or dealing with the racism, Islamophobia or biphobia you experience within your own (LGBTI) community–is a double marginalisation.
A community should be judged not by how it celebrates its most privileged members, but rather how it stands with its least privileged.
Next time, Pride in London might want to consider listening more to its less powerful and privileged members in shaping and framing its space.
Photo credit: Baldo Sciacca
6. Testing is key
You have no idea whether anything you create will have the effect you want it to unless you test it out in some way. That could just be asking your mum, neighbour or friend what they think your campaign message is trying to say; how it makes them feel and what they immediately think of when they see it. Keep in mind what kind of biases they might have, or why they might be different from your intended audience (like, do they have strong political affiliations that might affect how they see your message? What’s their educational background?) and try to control for that (e.g. if they have a post-graduate degree then they might not be the best person to consult about accessibility).
If you’ve got a bit of time and/or money, put it into doing some focus groups, survey polling, or some kind of online testing. It’ll be worth it.
Don’t be the person responsible for this lilo. Or, indeed, the PR company that upset a lot of Pride-goers with the Love Happens Here campaign.
Our Framing Equality toolkit will be finished and available in September.
Some things I read:
- London Pride Posters Slammed For Making LGBT+ Rights ‘All About Straight People’ Huffington Post
- Why Pride in London Should Have Paid Actual Queer People to Make Their Ads Highsnobiety
- LGBT+ people are furious over Pride in London’s new posters Gay Times
- London Pride heavily criticised for controversial posters Independent
- London’s Pride Posters, Ranked by “What the Fresh Hell Were They Thinking?” Autostraddle
- I’m a gay man and I hate these new Pride posters Shortlist
- London Pride insults the people it’s meant to celebrate Dazed Digital
- Is Pride still doing what it set out to do? i-D