When the first brick was thrown in the Stonewall riots of June 1969, little was it known that this act of defiance would mark a historic turning point for contemporary LGBTQ+ rights around the world.
The rioting in Greenwich Village was a reaction to deliberately targeted police raids on the Stonewall Inn, which in the 60’s served as a safe space for the poorest and most marginalized people in the community including drag queens, transgender people, lesbians, and effeminate men.
Although the riots only lasted a few days, it was clear a change was occurring, and those who had felt oppressed now felt empowered. They served as a catalyst for the formation of inclusive networks such as the Gay Liberation Front, and on 8 June 1970 the first gay Pride marches took place, commemorating the anniversary of the riots and the foundation of today’s modern-day Pride parades that occur around the world.
So why is Pride still important today?
Without doubt LGBTQ+ awareness and inclusion has improved massively. Media representation in particular has improved, with significant milestones including The BBC appointing Ben Hunt as its first LGBT correspondent, and the success of multiple award-winning programs including Pose, Queer Eye and Ru Paul’s Drag Race putting queen culture front and center of mainstream media.
But of course, that’s only part of the story. Although many countries recognize same-sex marriage, approximately 68 UN member states still have laws that criminalize homosexuality. That’s over a third, and many of them are significant players on the world’s economic stage.
For countless years, people have made extreme sacrifices and even given their lives to promote LGBTQ+ visibility and equality. The world was left shocked earlier this year at the killing of Northern Irish journalist Lyra McKee, a prominent diversity and inclusion campaigner.
And although the rainbow flag was first flown at San Francisco Pride in June 1978, it wasn’t until the following November and the assassination of Harvey Milk, a fierce campaigner for banning discrimination in public accommodations, housing, and employment on the basis of sexual orientation, that use of the flag as a symbol of unity and inclusion significantly increased.
Understanding this history, and the ongoing dynamic of diversity, inclusion and LGBTQ+ rights at a global level, is important for businesses. Employers of all sizes have an equal responsibility to create safe and supportive working environments for their people, and those they do business with.
Valuing your workforce and allowing them to bring their full, authentic selves to work is the surest way to foster and retain your most important asset: your people. Leadership is not about being in charge, but being responsible for the people in your charge and creating inclusive working environments means people can work at their natural best.
Additionally, not only does having a more diverse and inclusive workforce mean that your businesses will have a better understanding of what their clients want or desire, it makes your workforce more representative of society as a whole, allowing for greater diversity of thought and more informed decision making.
And allowing employees to be their authentic self at work can also make your business perform better financially. In 2018, the UK trade body for asset managers – the Investment Association – published a report entitled “Bringing our whole selves to work”. It found that a happy and inclusive workplace can raise sales by 37%, and productivity by 31%.
All of this of course is for nothing if inclusion and belonging doesn’t sit as a board-level priority. Fostering an inclusive workplace is now regarded as one of the most significant keystones of the ESG agenda, and the tone from the top can be pivotal in ensuring that your external messaging on diversity is mirrored by the culture that exists within your business.
Taking part and sponsoring Pride parades at a corporate level is of course hugely valuable in demonstrating visibility and supporting the amazing charities Pride networks work with. But it can’t be tokenistic. The outward message must reflect the inward philosophy and it’s important that cultures of belonging, where everyone’s voice is heard and they’re free to color outside the lines, sits at the heart of how your business operates; not just on a parade float.
So by celebrating Pride, not only do we acknowledge all of the LGBTQ+ people who risked their lives for our collective future, but we build and create inclusive environments that celebrate diversity. In the workplace, cultures of belonging that are championed by both members of the community and allies represent not only a safe space for your people, but an acknowledgement that as a business you understand the ongoing challenge to creating equality across the world.
Everybody say love.
Benjamin Thiele-Long is a vice president in Cognito's New York office