On the same day Malta exploded in a fit of GayRage™, international beauty giant Sephora announced it would be closing down 400 stores across the United States to give all employees workshops on inclusivity. It was a move that probably cost millions, but was widely regarded as a huge step in the right direction.
So why was the reaction to Sephora’s positive action so vastly contrary to what we saw happen in Malta for a similar idea?
Firstly, the fact that Malta’s version came with a butt-ugly sticker that’s gonna chill next to the opening hours and “Dogs Welcome” signs didn’t help
But rainbow flags stuck on doors have been around forever, so I’d like to believe the issue is deeper than that. A lot of the problems with this initiative were amplified because the government’s usually-scarily-good PR team decided to take a break this Tuesday, and let all hell break loose.
Literally everyone yesterday.
As all other countries step into Pride Month (except Malta, who had to move it for an election two years ago #RememberThat?) it’s good to remind ourselves that pinkwashing is a real thing that continues to happen
Companies jump on the LGBT+ bandwagon to look like they’re supporting an important cause (but only after it’s socially acceptable to do so). Businesses and brand owners will slap a rainbow on anything now, but during the fight for legislative change, they were nowhere to be seen. Having an online application that lets you call yourself LGBT+ friendly fits rights into that slot, so the backlash is extremely understandable from that perspective.
But as more and more people jump onto the rage train, talk of “we don’t want to be pandered to” (an important and powerful sentiment) quickly begins to morph into “we don’t need to be recognised as a minority anymore” (a dangerous thought to have). The truth is we’re nowhere near ready for that, even here in LGBT-chart-topping Malta.
The second we get overly-complacent about the progress we’ve made over the decades is the second our leaps forward slowly start becoming steps back.
Will an ugly sticker in a window fix that? Absolutely not.
But the message (that was completely missed because of a badly-executed PR stunt probably done to cover Malta in rainbows as another win for the government) about the importance of businesses being trained in minority rights and inclusivity is one we need to keep championing.
Thinking we don’t need educational overhauls through initiatives like this is just a few steps away from stopping Pride because “it’s 2019 and we’re all equal now”.
To say that a restaurant with a small rainbow stuck on the window is equal to the Nazis using pink triangles to identify homosexuals for concentration camps (a real phrase used multiple times in arguments yesterday) is reductive and disrespectful to those who suffered so much before us
While travelling, that small rainbow just gives tourists like me (or locals who may need the extra encouragement) a small nod to let us know that we’re seen.
Will it stop a waiter from being an asshole to my partner and I if he wants to be? No. But will it cause segregation to the point where LGBT+ people can only eat in restaurants with a rainbow on them? Also no.
Hopefully, the severe backlash to this whole fiasco will encourage those responsible for the project to take a step back and identify which parts of the project caused the most outrage within the community; and yes, it’s the outrage from LGBT+ people that should be taken the most seriously seeing, as they are the ones affected by this.
One of the scariest part about everything that went down is the number of straight people who messaged me to tell me how I should be feeling as opposed to asking why I feel a certain way. It will hopefully also motivate all those who were so appalled by it to do more active work to help our trans brothers and sisters as well as people of colour within our community and beyond.
The fight for a proper overhaul in education on LGBT+ issues, and training for employers and employees is one that needs to keep happening. Don’t let an ugly design and a PR disaster spell the end of the reformation we still need as a community.