LBB: And how can Canadian agencies offer better support for their marginalized communities, especially outside of Pride month?
If you’re not ready for meaningful allyship this Pride Month, start in July, and then next year, you’ll have a year’s worth of good work to talk about and celebrate.
And most importantly, make sure there is an open dialogue about what’s happening in the world, and in marketing at your agency.
Queer rights and Pride are being attacked right now, and our teams need to know that you have their back… all year. Showing up and sticking to your guns makes people feel supported. It also ensures they know you have their back anytime they may have to make a call to stand up for themselves or anyone else in the company.
It’s also important to ensure your staff from equity-seeking groups don’t feel tokenized. If you are going to seek input from staff, consultants, or community members based on their lived experience, make sure they are compensated for it. Lived experience is irreplaceable, so make sure the pay speaks to this.
Beyond this, look for opportunities to provide mentorship throughout the year, or work with a local, queer not-for-profit that might need some marketing or communications support. You’ll learn about some of the realities for queer folks through this, and also give the organization the support they very likely need.
Within the work itself, rainbow-washing and representation are often major issues, with token gestures being surface level, and nothing more. Agencies need to demand better work that creates meaningful engagement with this community, and involves and impacts them directly. Specifically, a rainbow wash is fine… as long as the paint is permanent. Bad analogy? Who knows?
Regardless, during Pride month, talk about what you are doing as a company, rather than focusing on what you want to say.
Brands need to decide whether or not they are ready to have a voice in this space. If they are, you’ve got to be ready to speak to and defend your position.
LBB: In the same vein, UpHouse works with the Sexuality Education Resource Centre MB, Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce, and various organizations that benefit the 2SLGBTQ+ community. What do these relationships look like, and what have you achieved thus far?
Alex: We’ve been really lucky to find meaningful work by putting ourselves out there. Many times, value-aligned organizations will seek us out, or we’ll answer an RFP that asks about the agency’s DE&I efforts, and we’ll hear that most companies sort of fudged through a response, while UpHouse’s stood out.
We got started with the Sexuality Education Resource Centre MB (SERC) in 2019, helping them run their first major fundraising campaign through a brand campaign anchored in the creative tagline, ‘Sex Ed for Everyone’. To demonstrate why we need sexuality education expertise at all ages, and for people from all walks of life, we set up cameras for regular folks to answer (and playfully stumble through) some of the tough sexuality questions regularly asked in SERC’s youth program.
Since then, we’ve worked on a workplace sexual harassment campaign with them, and are currently working on a campaign to promote SERC’s training programs for service providers (to help them provide trauma-informed care and sexuality education that’s rooted in experience). SERC has opened our eyes to a lot throughout our time with them, and it’s been such a symbiotic relationship. We’ve been able to promote them while feeling like we gain so much from the research-backed responses they can provide on all of the issues our gender and sexuality diverse communities are facing at any given moment.
We’re also members of Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce, and have worked with them to name and brand their ally accreditation program for businesses, ‘Rainbow Registered’, as well as various other tourism-related projects and their biggest annual gala. It’s been so fun to be able to work in these spaces that value the experience – as well as the perspectives we bring to the table – and be able to give back to the communities we’re so proud to be a part of.
LBB: Last year, you debuted the ‘#PrideWithUs’ campaign. Tell us more about this! What is it, how did it come to pass, and how can Canadians show their support?
Alex: Thinking back to my first Pride festival, there was a lot of anxiety celebrating it. Being new to Winnipeg, I didn’t have a big community yet to go with.
Realizing that the first-time anxiety, or anyone feeling like they lack strong community connections to march with might be universal, we decided to launch our first Pride float by inviting people to ‘#PrideWithUs’. The Pride Winnipeg Festival is a bit unique, in that the public can still join the Parade and march behind a float, and we wanted to give people the warm welcome they might need to be a part of their first Pride, or just feel a sense of belonging and community at the event.
Our float was completely wrapped in mirrors, symbolizing that even those observing the march were really ‘Priding’ with us, too. We are back this year with the same concept, but a few small tweaks! (More bubble guns, more glitter, and more stickers – plus, a bit of tie dye). We’ll have a DJ from the community and a drag queen at the head of the float, plus we’re matching donations to the Rainbow Resource Centre, and giving away a few tickets to its Saturday Night Pride event (which we helped orchestrate).
LBB: For readers who might still be in the closet, or struggling with their sexuality or gender identity, is there any advice you might give?
Alex: This is a tough one. I think people only come out when they feel safe to do so, or when they decide that they are willing to give up some security in their lives and relationships because it’s so important to them.
So, I think people can only really come out on their own time.
The only ‘wisdom’ I hope I can impart is that there really is a community waiting to accept you. Being a part of the 2SLGBTQ+ communities is one of the great privileges of my life.
They are so willing to embrace, challenge, and respect each other, and it really can make you feel like you have a starting point in common with people all around the world. It grows and shrinks your world in amazing and beautiful ways if you can let it.
LBB: Presently, we’re right in the middle of the Pride Winnipeg Festival! What sort of plans do you have in store this year, and what are you most excited about?
Alex: We have DJ, The Kaptain, spinning on our float before shutting down the parade’s main stage lineup on Sunday, so we feel pretty lucky to have them! But other than our float in the Parade, we’re excited to attend the Rainbow Resource Centre’s Saturday Night Pride event, in celebration of their 50th anniversary.
The event will be at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights – the only museum of its kind in the world – and it should be a sellout event with close to 1,000 people attending! They’ll be bringing back an homage to a popular lounge from the ‘80s to early 2000s in Winnipeg, Ms. Purdy’s, to give folks a hit of nostalgia at the event. Our whole team (including remote folks who’ve flown in from Vancouver and Toronto) will be in town for the event, dancing together into the wee hours!