Don’t just slap a rainbow on it – here’s how to support the LGBTQ community in 2020

Oh, rainbow capitalism. The art of putting a rainbow flag out front, swapping the regular pens for Pride-themed ones, and telling yourself you’re being a good ally because you added a splash of color for just a single month out of the year. 

I hate to break it to you, but we’ve all been duped. The best way to support the LGBTQ community isn’t by spending money at straight-owned businesses who dusted off that rainbow flag and hung it outside their establishment. While it’s nice to give the thumbs up to pro-queer businesses, there’s a lot more you can be doing to acknowledge, uplift, and support your LGBTQ neighbors this year. In these divisive and strange times, we all need to do more to help each other thrive and be heard – and hanging a rainbow flag or wearing a Pride t-shirt doesn’t actually do much in the grand scheme of things. 

All hope is not lost. Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do to positively influence and help your queer community members – and it turns out, most of the ways you can help are fun, empowering, and beneficial to you both.

What can businesses do instead?

Instead of limiting your supportive days to the month of June, support for the LGBTQ community should be explicit all year round. At the very least, a sign or sticker on your door or at your desk where customers and coworkers alike can see it is a powerful way to draw your line in the sand for equality.

By showing that your dedication to the LGBTQ community stretches beyond the month that people expect, you’re signaling that you mean business. Putting a sticker in your window may seem like a small act (and I won’t lie, it is), but making it public year round that you support all members of your community is a force for good that helps your neighbors feel welcome. Any acknowledgment of our community is welcome. 

While this is important in all places, it’s especially powerful to see in beauty salons. Beauty care is supposed to be soothing, but for many queer folks, it’s anything but. Going in to get a pedicure and getting aggressively (mis)gendered the whole time is a surefire way for queer customers to leave miserable and never come back.

But no matter what kind of business you’re part of, taking a blatant pro-gay stance helps signal that homophobia isn’t tolerated in their house – meaning your queer customers will feel like they can count on the employees there to treat them fairly. 

While it’s helpful to do this, hanging a rainbow in the window is just a baby step. It’s easy, takes about five seconds, and doesn’t have any follow-up attached. If you’re really looking to help everyone feel welcome, you should expect to do a little more than slap a sticker on it – even if it’s up all year. Of course, like with most things, the best way to get the ball rolling is through a little communication, so... to your employees about the sign you put up!

You can have a sign in your window all day, but if your employees tout active homophobic stances or do things that make LGBTQ customers uncomfortable, that sign you put up is little more than false advertising.

So don’t stop at an empty promise. Talk to your employees about the sign or sticker you put up, and what that means. Have a meeting that lets your employees know why that sign is here and what you expect of them. This can be as involved as a sensitivity training or as small as an informal meeting, depending on your resources.

Be prepared to talk and answer questions. If there’s an LGBTQ team member, talk to them privately and ask how they’d feel about talking to the rest of the company about inclusion – and be sure you pay them for their time. If they aren’t comfortable, ask them what they wish the team knew, and include their wisdom in the meeting you host. Before you host your meeting, watch some YouTube videos or read articles (like this one!) on LGBTQ terms and norms. The more you know, the easier the discussion will be.

Revamp your name tags or email signatures

Almost every business these days either has a name tag or business email attached to it – and in queer and ally circles, it’s becoming common to include your gender pronouns just below your name. This simple switch is a powerful signal to everyone who reads it that you are receptive to learning other people’s pronouns. 

For a name tag, the switch can be as simple as making a name tag that says the person’s name, and then has their gender pronouns right below. Usually, the pronouns are written as “he/him,” “she/her,” or “they/them,” but folks who use two pronouns can include both by writing “she/they.”

Even if everyone in your employ is cis or cis-assumed, this name tag shift is a powerful way to show that trans*, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming folks can feel at ease and can expect that you’ll use the right pronouns when addressing them – or that you’ll at least act normal if they correct you.

If you don’t have name tags, you can still include pronouns in your daily work life. Put your gender pronouns in the bottom of your email signature. It’s a simple move that packs as big of a whollop as the name tag – and even cisgender people should do it. 

As you continue to normalize the idea that you can’t assume someone’s pronouns, your queer peers will have an easier time being heard. Plus, you never know who you’re emailing. If you’re cisgender and put he/him at the bottom of your email signature, your customers or business associates will see that they can be their authentic selves around you. It’s not just making someone happy. Showing up in this small but powerful way signals that members of the LGBTQ community can use their pronouns without putting their personal or professional lives at risk. 

Host queer-run events

I told you there was fun stuff to do that actually supports the LGBTQ community, and this is one of my favorites. Depending on the kind of space you work in, you can host any number of queer-specific events for your neighbors, from full out performances to small craft nights.

If you run a bar, consider hosting a drag night once a week, queer bingo, or a weekly L Word: Generation Q watch party. I once went to a bar that seemed very straight, yet had karaoke hosted by a drag queen. Even that weekly event helped the LGBTQ community know that the bartenders and managers had their back. When the community knows that queer folks are actively paid to be present at your event, they’re far more likely to keep showing up and feel supported by you. If you ever have charity events or months, choose a local LGBTQ nonprofit to support.

Don’t have a lot of resources? Try hosting a queer-specific day or event that encourages people to come in and spend time together, and keep it simple. It can be a queer coffee hour, LGBTQ pedicure Tuesdays, or a book signing from an LGBTQ author. Any of these events open the doors to a whole new swathe of folks who feel safe and welcome in your space, even on days that aren’t queer specific. 

This signals something else to your straight customers, too: that homophobia has no home in your business. You may lose a few homophobes from your regular rotation of customers and associates, but hey – that’s not business you want in the first place, right?

What if I’m just a plain old employee?

You don’t need managerial sway to be a force for good in your workplace. Take power into your own hands by addressing your managers directly about how your company connects to the queer community. You can start by bringing a sticker for the window promoting LGBTQ support and ask them to display it, or put a sticker of your own on your serving ticket book or desk, adjust your email signature, or even just start talking to your coworkers about LGBTQ acceptance in the workplace.

If you have the resources and energy, take the time to share information on why these changes matter, and offer to gather together employees to highlight some of the best ways businesses can support LGBTQ causes. If you think there may be allies out there in your workplace who would help you lighten the load, be bold. Ask them to support you in this crucial push for workplace inclusion, and even have them come talk to the manager with you. The more of you that show up to talk to your boss, the more likely your boss will be to listen. 

Even the lowest level employees can impact profound change by communication and bold moves. 

What individuals can do

Once you’ve gotten started making changes in the office, why stop there? Don’t limit your commitment to supporting the LGBTQ community to the workplace alone – take it into your own hands in your everyday life.

Power doesn’t begin and end in the hands of businesses, and it’s actually in our hands to shape the future however we dream it can be. So even if you’re unemployed or work for yourself, there is so much you can do to support the LGBTQ community actively in your everyday life.

Read, watch, and learn

Go out of your way to find things written and made by members of the LGBTQ community. You get brownie points, because you’re already on the right track by reading this article. nAny way that you can learn about the experiences of the LGBTQ community from the LGBTQ community is the number one way to start supporting. This also happens to be the best way to learn about any demographic you don’t belong to in terms of race, age, gender, ability, ethnicity, or religion. By reading what someone has to say about their experience, you can better understand how to be a true ally to their process and keep making sure they’re heard.

COLUMBUS, IN - APRIL 14: Residents and visitors attend the first Columbus Pride Festival on April 14, 2018 in Columbus, Indiana. Columbus is the hometown of Vice President Mike Pence, who has been a vocal opponent of LGBT issues. The festival, organized by high school senior Erin Bailey, drew hundreds of visitors to the small community located about 45 miles south of Indianapolis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

This doesn’t have to be you poring over dry academic articles. It can be fun, too. Listen to queer musicians like Frank Ocean and Anohni. Read books by queer authors like Jacqueline Carey, or enjoy a TV show with a genuine look at the queer experience, like Las Chicas de Cable.

Learning can be fun, and the more you open yourself up (and give attention to) creative works done that feature queer stories and voices, the more you’ll be able to relate to and undersand the queer community as a whole – making you the ally we need.

Listen more than you talk

I’ll keep this short and sweet. If you’re talking over a member of the LGBTQ community about their own plight as a queer person, you aren’t actually helping a bit. The best way to be an ally is to listen to people – and believe them about their experiences.

 Keep this in mind as you grow in your relationship to supporting queer folks and you’ll be on the way to being an excellent listening ear. This doesn’t mean interviewing everyone you meet about their experience – it’s actually the opposite.

Don’t be a weirdo and ask any queer person you stumble across to help you understand their life better. Instead, if the conversation about queerness happens to come up naturally, then listen. Don’t make it about you. I repeat: if you’re straight, the conversation is not about you. 

A common mistake straight folks make is finding a way to take their guilt about our cultural homophobia and do this weird 180 that has the queer person consoling the straight person and soothing their guilt. Don’t be that person. Listen. And when you do, pay attention to the next point:

If you’re straight, just treat LGBTQ folks like the normal people they are

Just like how straight people don’t walk down the street musing over their sexuality 24/7, us queer folks don’t typically sit there drinking coffee and say, “golly, I sure am gay!” 

If I’m being honest, sometimes we do have moments where we play a little too expertly into stereotypes, like when I volunteered at a community theater and showed up wearing lavender overalls with one cuff rolled up. Those moments are the ones that make us laugh within our own circles. 

In general though, we aren’t spending a significant amount of time pondering how our identity influences the way we eat, breathe, and sleep. So if you’re new to spending time with queer people, don’t do some interpretive dance or cultural tango trying to treat us differently. A queer person is just like anyone else you meet, so basic etiquette is the same. 

For starters, don’t assume things about them and don’t bring up overly personal issues like genitals or sex. If that sounds like a silly thing to say, ask any member of the LGBTQ community and they’ll tell you that they’ve been asked incredibly invasive questions by strangers before.. 

Don’t overthink things. You can always fall back on the golden rule: treat people how you’d like to be treated. Just be cool, and your queer community members will thank you.

Look for and support queer-owned businesses

Love it or hate it, we live in a capitalist culture, and money acts as our way to say “thank you” in exchange for services or goods. When you’re living in this society, spending your dollars is a powerful way to support members of your community who are queer. 

You have to spend those dollars somewhere – so whether that’s opting for a tattoo artist who’s queer, an LGBTQ thrift store, or even finding a new hair stylist, your buying habits are a force to be reckoned with.

By making these changes, you’re helping these LGBTQ business owners live genuinely and without fear. Queer people make less money than straight ones. Bi and pansexual folks face discrimination in the workplace because we’re viewed as “flaky” or unreliable, and earn less money, and trans* women face pay cuts of about 33%. Your dollars can help shift these imbalances.

Pop into your neighborhood gay bar and ask about other queer-run business, or scope out any business flyers there. And in this instance, the internet is your friend. Look up “LGBT-owned businesses in my area,” and see what yields results.

 Even if you think there isn’t a queer-run business in your city, odds are you’re probably wrong (yes, even if you live in the rural south). Try attending your nearest pride and look for lists of local places to hit up all year long that are LGBTQ-run..

Shop queer online

Putting your money into LGBTQ pockets is even easier online. Google queer-owned spaces that offer everything you need. It’s usually easy to find out who’s in charge. Look up lists online, or check a site’s “About Us” section. 

If you want queer-positive clothing, scope out this list for a few gems. Some of my favorite casual queer clothing lines are Wildfang and Otherwild. If you’re looking to get your Pride on, browse through Queerly Designs and see what speaks to you. These brands know what you’re looking for because they aren’t just supporting the community; they are the community.

The support doesn’t stop at clothes, either. You can look up lists of basically whatever you want that’s run by queer folks. And if you’re in the business of buying panties, look for LGBTQ panty sellers – you’ll fill one happy queer person’s pockets while getting your thrills, too.

Speak up – even when everyone in the room is straight.

One of my favorite things about being pansexual is also one of my least favorites: on both sides of the aisle, I’m something of a spy. Straight people tend to assume I’m straight like them, and so I get the inside scoop. I’m privy to conversations that other queer people may not get to hear – and it ain’t always pretty. When a group assumes that everyone there is straight, something shocking happens. From slightly homophobic quips to outright queer-shaming, the ugly truth of what some people believe when they think nobody is watching comes out.. 

That’s usually when I take off my Groucho Marx glasses and reveal that I’m, in fact, queer. It would feel a lot more helpful if more straight people spoke up. If someone says something transphobic, it’s up to you to speak out immediately.

It doesn’t have to be a huge blowout. Instead, just pause the conversation, turn to that person, and say, “That was really transphobic, and that’s not okay.” Then, move on.

If that sounds intimidating, picture being queer and trans* and knowing that straight people chose to say nothing. Your silence is seen by homophobes as a blessing. It signals to them that they’re in the right.

You can be the person that teaches them it’s not okay to talk like that. As you keep calling attention to people’s transphobic or homophobic comments, it gets easier. And once you start speaking up, you’ll find you have no desire to stop..

Does hanging a rainbow flag help at all?

All of this information about what else you can do isn’t to say that hanging a rainbow flag is completely useless. Putting a beacon on the front of your business does do a bit to help normalize the acceptance of the LGBTQ community. There’s a phrase that comes to mind when I think of it: the normative power of the actual. The more people like you and me show up and present our support, the more normal that will become to others.

Think of it like a positive form of peer pressure that pushes your neighbors into being more supportive too. When you make it unacceptable to be homophobic, at least for that month, it helps generate discussion and openness, making people feel more receptive to new ideas and points of view. 

It also does help some people feel at least a bit more comfortable entering your establishment. There is a lot to be said in feeling like you are entering a space that is actively inviting you to come as you are. But here’s the thing: is that passive help enough? 

I don’t think so. We need to support each other all year round. And it starts here, with you.