During the month of June, LGBTQ+ pride celebrations take place all over the world. While this particular time to celebrate may seem arbitrary, the month of June holds historical significance for the LGBTQ+ liberation movement.
The Stonewall riots, a pivotal event in LGBTQ+ activism, began in the early hours of June 28, 1969 at a bar called the Stonewall Inn in New York City. The bar was violently raided by police, so the patrons started a riot in response. This night became one of the most important events in the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States. The Stonewall riots feel particularly relevant this year, as we witness Black Lives Matter protests around the world against systemic racism and discrimination.
Along with a renewed discussion of the historical significance of the Stonewall riots, another staple of Pride month is proclamations of allyship, support, and activism from companies.
But, what does activism mean?
In the Encyclopedia of Social Justice, Brian Martin wrote, “Activism is action on behalf of a cause, action that goes beyond what is conventional or routine. There are many varieties of activism, from face-to-face conversations to massive protests, from principled behaviour to the unscrupulous, from polite requests to objectionable interference, and from peaceful protests to violent attacks.”
While activism is not well defined according to Martin, genuine and meaningful activism can have a positive impact on company culture. Employees are more intrinsically motivated to perform well when they find deeper meaning in their work. And while adding rainbow flags to physical and virtual spaces increases visibility, there are additional steps that companies can take to engage in meaningful activism.
Ask the right questions.
Education is always a great first step. Companies can partner with grassroot movements to learn more about the true needs of LGBTQ+ people, and support existing activist efforts.
One of the goals of the LGBTQ+ liberation movement is to allow individuals to live without fear of discrimination or violence. This goal largely affects trans women of colour, who are disproportionately victims of LGBTQ+ hate crimes. Organizations like Transgender Law Center in the US and Egale in Canada work tirelessly to promote LGBTQ+ rights and have a deep understanding of some of the needs and issues faced by LGBTQ+ communities that they are serving. If you can, consider making a donation or reaching out to these organizations to learn more.
Strive to walk the walk.
Beyond self-education and financial contribution, make sure that your activism is directly tied to the values and traits your company is committed to stand for every day, and makes a tangible impact on society. Patagonia, for example, is an excellent example of environmental activism. Since 1985, they have donated $100 million to environmental causes. But it’s not all about money. They also promote and teach customers how to repair clothing and own 72 worldwide repair centres.
Company participation doesn’t have to be top-down. Employee-led initiatives are a great way to support meaningful causes and can help companies play a critical role in becoming genuinely active in social causes. Women and Allies, PlanettLoverz and Diversity and Belonging are some of the committees we have here at Thriver.
If you really want to make a commitment to meaningful activism, you need to do just that – make a commitment to it. Rather than treat these movements as a trend, consider how your company can make activism an ongoing priority within your organization, and effect positive change in the world.