Pride Parade Entry Basics for Straight People

Some friends and I went early to the Vancouver pride parade on Sunday to get a good seat to watch the parade. Sitting there for what seemed like 6 hours, I had lots of time to reflect on the most common mistakes straight-run companies and organizations make when trying to be supportive or market to LGTB folks. I thought I’d pass on some advice here, in hopes that some will Google for advice before next years parade.

If you’re going in the pride parade, go gay for the day. Is it a little scary? Worried it might offend your other customers/stakeholders? Good. This is what being a real ally is about.

Flying the colours is important
Flying the colours is important

1) Mistake number one – no Rainbows:

Not having  having any rainbows or other explicitly gay community markers is almost an insult. The pride rainbow is the main symbol that goes with the Pride Festival,  Make sure you use all 6 colours – red, orange, yellow, green, blue and lilac.

The police motorcycle drill team went first in the pride parade this year. I won’t even go into the sacrilege of having first of all straight people, and second of all NOT dykes on bikes go first in the pride parade, which was bad enough, but would it have killed them to have shelled out $5 each to have a rainbow flag flying proudly on each bike? They had Canadian flag holders on some of the motorcyles, which could have easily been switched to rainbow ones.

Not flying the flag when you’re leading the parade says “we’re only here because our boss made us” when it could so easily have said “LGTB people are our people too”.

2) Mistake number two – Flaunting your Heterosexuality:

If you are dancing with someone or holding hands with someone or walking arm in arm with someone in the parade, make sure they’re the same sex/gender as you. Yes, I know, you’re straight, but isn’t it a little homophobic to need to advertize it all through a parade celebrating same-sex relationships and queer culture? Take take a risk that someone might think you’re lesbian/gay, and walk a mile (or a few blocks) in our shoes.

If you’re walking with your sig other, holding hands is okay, but compensate by going out of your way to proclaim your support. A great example was the straight couple and kid walking near the back of the  ‘Family Pride’ group. They had written in nice big rainbow letters on their backs – “Breeders Supporting All Families” – Nice touch, or the PFLAG folks slapping big pink “I am loved by PFLAG” stickers on us.

Jack Layton with a pink bandana is showing support for pride.
Jack Layton with a pink bandana is showing support for pride.

3) Mistake number 3 – Wearing the Wrong Costume

Note for straight women (yes, this is for you, Hedy Fry). Walking around in a fancy dress with a bunch of hot guys makes you look straight, not gay.  It’s a brave thing for a man to break the boy dress code rules and wear a smashing gold lame number. On a straight woman, it’s more boring hetero flaunting unless you dyke it up by pairing it with army boots, a lot of cleavage and a smashing rainbow boa.

Straight ladies, if you really want to show how unhomophobic you are try wearing a man’s tux or walking arm in arm with some dykes.  Much as I’m peeved at former Mayor Larry Campbell for supporting the Olympics and for taking campaign money from one party and then switching to another one once elected, he did great at the pride festival a few years ago showing up in his skirt/kilt. Straight federal NDP leader Jack Layton did him one better by wearing a pink bandana, and showing relaxed comfort walking with gay men.

Priding up your company card doesnt have to be hard - think flamboyant!
Priding up your company car doesn't have to be hard - think flamboyant!

4) Mistake number 4 – No Effort:

Driving your company van underadorned or wearing only your company colours in the parade does not qualify as a float and is worse than not showing up at all. It screams insincerity – “I want your money, but I don’t care enough to deck out my ‘float’ appropriately for your special day”. The exception to this is in parades in very homophobic towns, where just showing up is a big deal.

In uban areas, if you’re trying to show you care, gay up your corporate image for the day. Reward your homo employees if you have them, for bringing their partners and kids to walk together hand in hand (it tells us you are a friendly place to work), and spring for a few bunches of rainbow balloons to tie on. Add a big readable sign saying “We love our GLBT customers – mention this float for 30% off” and you’re done. That didn’t hurt, did it?

A good (positive) example of this was Air New Zealand, whose float had same sex couples in the graphics and explicitly said they specifically welcomed same sex couples as travellers.

5) Mistake number 5 – Being closeted:

Use your words.

Lesbian.    Gay.

Make sure your straight customers realize you’re an ally too. It matters.

CTV was a pride sponsor and took out an TV ad to indicate their support without using words or images that might tip off any homophobic viewers that they were LGTB-friendly.  Vancity did something similar a year or so ago. This is cheating and we know it.

Although we know that the wholesome ‘friends’ with arms about one another are really couples and the subtle rainbow flags in the background are there for us, it’s still closeted not to use words that ‘come out’ and make it clear to people who aren’t in on the codes. It’s entirely possible that a straight person viewing the ad might miss out that you support GLBT people, and I suspect that’s the point.

Sraight girls on your float
Straight gals + gay men = ignoring lesbians

6) Mistake number 6 – Focusing only on the Boys:

Gay Women exist too.

Yes, I know the boys have all the money, and two guys making 125% of a woman’s wage each make for desirable customers. However, if you market only to the boys (unless you make jock straps or something)  you’re showing you’re only in this pride thing for the money.

Having a few straight women on your float with the gay men doesn’t count (see item 3, above). Yes, I know not all lesbians are androgynous looking, but really, we can tell. If the women on your float all look like models and are touching the guys rather than each other, it’s a dead give-away.

We love our Straight Allies

Heterosexual allies are important. LGTB people make up over 10% of the population (higher in urban areas) and we have less children and therefore more discretionary income per capita. We vastly prefer to buy from companies who prove they are not homophobic, so marketing to us in sincere ways is a great idea.

70% of Canadians supported gay marriage, which not only makes Canada look great internationally, it makes Canadian homos the envy of much of the world. It also means that most of your customers are good with you being part of the pride parade.

We value our straight allies, but need real ones who will take a stand for us, rather than just chasing the mighty gay dollar.

I know it’s hard to fit into and appeal to a culture you know nothing about, one that might have a few chips on it’s collective shoulder about folks with hetero privilege. So next year, make the most of your marketing or community outreach budget and get with the true Pride spirit.