“Pride is Cancelled. Now What?” #FridayForum
By Intern Leith Ghuloum and PRSA Silicon Valley Chapter Immediate Past President & NVP Vice President, Head of Marketing Ellie Javadi
On Friday, June 26 we were joined by Alexandra Legend Siegel of Salesforce, Andy Nguyen of Out in Tech, Chris Powell of BOCA Communications, and Cynthia Horiguchi of Google for a lively conversation on what Pride means for communicators. The discussion was moderated by Scott Thornburg, APR.
We are at the intersection of a global pandemic, a recession, a Presidential election season, social unrest over racial injustice, and yes, PRIDE. For the LGBTQ+ community, it will go down in history as the year we had Pride without Pride. These are strange and unsettling times for American life.
The panel convened during a truly historic time – with the Supreme Court’s latest ruling that workers cannot be fired for being gay or transgender. This was a long time coming for the LGBTQ+ community, especially considering that the conservative leaning Supreme Court ruled that businesses can discriminate against customers on the basis of their sexuality just two years ago. This may seem like a win for the community, but as Horiguchi pointed out, “we can’t look at Pride in isolation.” There are many in the community that are not guaranteed the same rights due to other marginalized identities that they hold, which is why intersectionality is so critical. Many might feel more marginalized, in fact, due to legislation that has faded into the background of Pride celebrations.
The dismantling of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) occurred on the same day as the repeal of several Voting Rights Act (VRA) provisions. The “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy (DADT) was overturned on the same day that the Senate put a temporary halt on the DREAM Act. The Hate Crime Prevention Act (HCPA) was attached to a military appropriations bill. LGBTQ+ people of color are systematically oppressed beyond their gender and sexuality.
While there are new protections for LGBTQ+ workers, we need to evaluate if these protections are enough to guarantee true equity for LGBTQ+ workers of color. This is especially true for the transgender community that is currently losing protections against discrimination in healthcare. With the current national focus on our country’s racial history, we should be sure to examine how the intersections of oppression are affecting people differently.
So how can we as communicators make a difference?
Microaggressions vs. Allyship
Siegel discussed how bias in language can progress from microaggressions to macroaggressions quickly. As communicators, our language can often spread further and faster than others, which means that our implicit biases can spread further (and farther). She shared that we need to view combating bias as something that is “core to our jobs” and that diversity and inclusion are not just “add on.” It is not enough to ensure that marginalized communities have a voice in the conversation. We must elevate and amplify the voices of the marginalized.
Many of our speakers talked about allyship as a central tenet of Pride. As communicators, allyship isn’t just about showing up at protests. Powell discussed how important listening is to communication. Listening is an explicit demand of good communication, of course, but these dynamics can be particularly fragile, which asks communicators to listen even more actively – and frequently. In the absence of that, communicators run the risk of co-opting messages and movements.
Powell also shared how important it is to have safe spaces in the form of allied working groups at all levels of a career trajectory, suggesting that the support from these types of groups can advance more of the LGBTQ+ community into leadership roles.
It is also important that we look to allyship as a responsibility of all employees. As Nguyen shared, diversity and inclusion programming is often tacked on as a responsibility for marginalized employees, regularly without any increase in compensation. In this way, diversity and inclusion efforts can have an adverse effect on marginalized members of the workforce. This sentiment echoes Siegel’s point that combating bias needs to be “core to our jobs.” The responsibility cannot fall solely on the backs of those who already carry the weight of oppression. If you identify as a communicator, it’s vital that you can answer the question: how are you being an ally?
Cynthia Horiguchi, Google – “We can’t look at pride in isolation.”
Intersectionality should be underscored. We should be intentional and look at PRIDE in relation to the black community.
Don’t use progress to halt momentum.
We can’t wait for someone to tell us to do it.
Progress is not good enough – it’s just progress. We need to continue moving forward. For allies, remember that the work is hard. There is no finish line for trying to change the way in which the world works. Yes, let’s celebrate our accomplishments, but never forget that the work is not done.
Ally Siegel, Salesforce – “Make space, don’t take space.”
We need to listen to underrepresented communities and hear their stories in a sincere and meaningful way. Don’t try to tell someone else’s story. Don’t try to make it about you. We need people who will listen and learn, so we can make changes from the inside out.
There’s also racism in the LGBTQ+ community and homophobia in the black community.
Bias in language is powerful. Communicators are intrinsically influential. Responsible messaging isn’t a bonus skill – it’s an imperative skill. It’s not enough to make sure marginalized folks have a voice. We must make sure their voices are heard. Did you know that Pride started as a protest by two women of color: Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
Andy Nguyen, Out in Tech – “Pride is about allyship.”
Often, diversity efforts have just created more work without increased pay for the marginalized.
There needs to be a financial commitment from within companies. Diverse talent can’t yield systemic change without true support from top leadership. This means that financial support and prioritization of the work must be embraced.
Chris Powell, BOCA Communications – “As communicators it is important to listen.”
If there were safe spaces earlier in careers, it would help foster diversity and inclusion throughout those careers.
Research is a huge part of our job as storytellers and communicators.
In order to tell a story, we need to know the whole story. This means we need to become familiarized with history before we can present a well-rounded story.
Scott Thornburg, APR, Sojern – “Maybe they’re not the leaders we thought they were.” – about historical figures in regard to statues coming down.
Inviting people to the table is not enough. This implies ownership of the table. We have to take a closer look at this kind of language.
We need to be aware that even when we mean well, our message can come across the wrong way. As communicators, we should be acutely aware of how we are phrasing and presenting things.