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Pinkwashing at a crossroads

The future of brand involvement in LGBT progress

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Frederick Center, gay news, Washington Blade
pinkwashing, Frederick Center, B'More Proud, gay news, Washington Blade

Pinkwashing is a relatively new phenomenon; it refers to the practice of corporations not living up to their purported promises with regard to LGBT rights. The assumption behind the moniker is some companies claim to be supportive of the LGBT community for purely commercial gain, without a tangible commitment to spurring progress. “In other words, putting their pride effort and dollars where it actually matters,” says Jim Obergefell, a gay rights advocate and adviser to organizations and companies.  

Companies seeking to counter charges of pinkwashing can best serve the progress they hope to create by taking actions nobody will hear about. Why would this be the case? Surely large, powerful companies should publicly encourage progress? Not so, says Open for Business and several of their member companies. At an event hosted by the EU and Clyde Group on this topic, Ed Pilkington of British drinks company Diageo warned that “do no harm” sometimes means that private channels are the safest. 

For example, Western companies championing gay rights in countries hostile toward these issues (Nigeria, for example, where 9 out of 10 people are anti LGBT) risk endangering the gay employees or LGBT rights groups they publicly support. The real battleground for LGBT progress lies in other, often developing, countries, where Western-based companies operate and have large commercial footprints in the public sphere. Businesses operating in Indonesia, Nigeria and Kenya – where gay rights have come under considerable fire – have so much power that there are questions surrounding their moral responsibility to act. 

That doesn’t mean that Western brands can do nothing in these markets. In fact, Pilkington points out that his company has a deliberate strategy to leverage employees as authentic ambassadors of the company’s values through diversity and inclusion training. Support can also be given “in kind” to civil rights groups operating in developing countries; deputy EU Ambassador to the U.S. Caroline Vincini explains that “support (to organizations) can be offered through mentoring, legal services, offering space or expertise.” 

These limitations might be a cruel irony to a brand manager eager to showcase their company’s record on these issues. But it speaks to the nuanced approach to diversity and inclusion required in an age where pinkwashing is unfortunately common, and companies are wary of it. 

These guidelines don’t mean that pinkwashing isn’t an issue for companies operating in the United States; they have plenty of room to grow, and plenty of space to fail too. At the recent SXSW festival in Austin, pinkwashing was a hot button topic among many LGBT advocates, including my panel on LGBT+ rights and the private sector. 

The anchor example was pinkwashing at Pride parades; increasingly, brands have chosen to participate in the annual Pride parades of cities where they have a strong operations presence with a high number of employees or suppliers, or where they want to grow their customer base. Countless companies — from Coke to Colgate — have participated in these festivals and, as a result, have drawn scrutiny. 

“It’s not enough to slap a rainbow logo on a Pride float anymore,” says Hugh Steeler, an LGBT advocate. “Companies can actually incur greater risk in the delta between their public statements and private actions.” If your company markets itself as an “out and equal” brand but doesn’t truly promote LGBT rights in everything from supply chains to training programs, it is vulnerable. 

In the last decade, the leading strategists for corporate diversity and inclusion have come to understand pinkwashing as a potential challenge to their brands; one that requires attention to navigate its complexities. Recent analyses by Open for Business, an organization that works with brands to affect change in countries where gay rights are lagging, shows how concern surrounding pinkwashing is growing. 

In the United States, most large companies have acknowledged these realities and worked to improve (though there is room for growth: a study from last year shows that about half of American LGBT+ employees remain closeted at work). Effective companies acknowledge that the promotion of LGBT+ rights is good for their bottom lines and understand that their influence should sometimes be wielded in private ways. The best brands combine those lessons and create an authentic and powerful narrative. 

Alex Slater, founder and chief strategy officer of Clyde Group, is a civil rights campaigner, HIV/AIDS activist and public affairs strategist. He has worked with major organizations on civil rights, including the NAACP, ACLU, Election Protection, United Nations Human Rights Foundation, Center for Constitutional Rights, the Nonprofit Finance Fund and the West Hollywood AIDS Monument.

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Mayor Bowser and CDC take a wrong turn

We’ve come far in fight against COVID, there’s no reason to rush it

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wear a mask, gay news, Washington Blade

I am a big supporter of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. She is doing a great job for the people of D.C. and working hard fighting for our best interests. But no one is perfect.

On April 30, her administration made a big mistake releasing a policy on masks reported by dcist: “D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser further lifted mask restrictions for fully vaccinated people in an order published on Friday evening. The order says fully vaccinated people may go maskless in businesses, office buildings and other indoor settings and tasks businesses with enforcing the new rule.” It went on to say, “The businesses, office buildings, or other establishments shall exclude or attempt to eject persons who are not wearing masks or who remove their required masks, except in circumstances where the person is fully vaccinated and is permitted to conduct their activities without wearing a mask.”

It continued: “Businesses are allowed to request to see vaccine cards or other proof that patrons have been vaccinated to determine whether or not they have to wear a mask, per the order. Employers may ‘establish rules for mask-wearing at their offices or facilities that are more stringent’ than the new District regulations.”

Reading this, I felt it made no sense and would cause havoc for restaurants and businesses. Others agreed and spoke up and the policy was rescinded on Saturday, May 1. The Washington Post wrote: “To mask or not to mask? Mayor’s order stokes confusion in D.C.”

The original CDC advice on masks was confusing enough and Bowser made it worse. She isn’t the only one causing confusion. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued a new order on masks, which Montgomery County Executive Elrich immediately said he wouldn’t follow. Clearly this isn’t an easy thing to deal with.

With the CDC telling people for months they need masks everywhere, changing policy is complicated, especially when there will be different requirements for those who have been vaccinated and those yet to be. The administration wanted to show the benefit of being vaccinated but caused confusion. In addition I believe the CDC made a huge mistake by pausing the J&J vaccine. It seems they could have investigated the 15 cases of blood clots, out of the nearly eight million shots given, in the two weeks they did without creating havoc and fear of the vaccine. They could have given information to the medical community and shared it with the public on how to handle such an occurrence without the pause.

As a lay person reading and listening to the various medical experts I’m convinced there is little chance of getting COVID outdoors if you are vaccinated and even if you aren’t and not wearing a mask, unless you stand close with a group who also haven’t been vaccinated. So why not just begin to change mask policy for outside. The basic CDC statement was good: Vaccinated people no longer need a mask outside and it’s suggested if unvaccinated people are in groups without appropriate distance they should continue to wear them. Simple enough.

The real problem occurs when talking about masking indoors in public places like restaurants and other businesses, including grocery stores. How do you separate those who have been vaccinated from those who haven’t and still at major risk indoors being in close proximity to others who aren’t? Wouldn’t it just be simpler to say we all need to continue to wear a mask indoors in public places especially since we are far from herd immunity? According to the D.C. Health Department only 35% are fully vaccinated.

As someone who has been vaccinated, I am happy to continue to wear my mask inside public spaces to help protect others and to encourage everyone who has yet to be vaccinated to continue to wear their mask. Why would we make every restaurant, bar, grocery store or other business have an enforcer at the door checking for proof of vaccination before they let someone in without a mask? It’s not fair to put that burden on businesses that already have so much to do to make their establishments safe for all. The TSA was right when it announced Friday it extended the mask mandate until Sept. 16 at airports, on commercial aircraft, and on all buses and trains.

We have come so far in the fight against COVID there is no reason to rush this. Let’s make the rules as simple as possible. We are one community so we should act like it.

 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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LGBTIQ refugees in Kakuma need durable solutions to address challenges

Death of gay refugee last month underscored plight

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reparations, gay news, Washington Blade

The recent, tragic death of Chriton Atuhwera, a gay refugee who was the victim of an arson attack in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, has caught international attention.

Chritron was one of two gay men who suffered second-degree burns after a petrol bomb was thrown near the pair while they slept on a mattress in the open air, during the attack on March 15 in Kakuma.

This unspeakable and avoidable tragedy is just one piece of the puzzle. LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees in Kakuma have faced ongoing violence and discrimination and face elevated rates of economic and social exclusion including barriers to accessing employment and social services and challenges to effective organizing and advocacy for their human rights.

This tragic death and the ongoing threats that the community faces have precipitated the need for a more complete and long-overdue understanding of the situation on the ground for the LGBTIQ refugee community which in turn can lead to more comprehensive and durable solutions to benefit the broader community.

Today, Kakuma refugee camp is home to nearly 200,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers. Many have fled overland from Uganda, South Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The majority of the world’s refugees remain for years, often decades in refugee camps or informal settlements.

In total, there are approximately 300 LGBTIQ refugees and asylum seekers — perhaps more — currently living in Kakuma, which remains the only country in the region to provide asylum to those fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. The situation they face in Kakuma refugee camp is complex and multilayered.

While the goal of most LGBTIQ refugees and asylum seekers is to ultimately be resettled to a safe third country, resettlement slots have drastically fallen and are only available to less than 0.6 percent of refugees, a fraction of the world’s refugees. U.S. resettlement numbers dropped to historic lows during the Trump administration, and the Biden administration recently flip-flopped on its pledge to increase refugee resettlement slots. We urge the administration to honor its original commitment, recognizing that it will still only benefit a tiny fraction of refugees globally.

At the same time, LGBTIQ refugees in Kakuma face immediate challenges including poverty, isolation and lack of access to health and social services.

There are a number of groups of LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees scattered in different parts of the camp, and while these communities face many of the same daily struggles of life in a refugee camp, with individuals hailing from a variety of different countries of origin and cultural settings, not all LGBTIQ refugee communities in the camp have the same lived experiences nor do all LGBTIQ groups agree on one basic need and approach to better their lives and safety.

With the increased numbers of LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees arriving in Kakuma in recent years, the need has grown for a true and complete understanding of the challenges facing LGBTIQ refugees in Kakuma, uncovering root causes and identifying sustainable solutions. It is vital that this is done.

Especially in light of recent incidents, there is a clear need for further action and support, based on facts, taking into account the current situation on the ground and raising the voices of those groups whose needs are not always in the forefront. The lack of clear, detailed and well-rounded information regarding the situation experienced by LGBTIQ refugees in the camp also creates challenges for those interested in helping to ensure the rights and well-being of this community.

That is why, ORAM together with Rainbow Railroad have announced a joint Kakuma research project. The research project, endorsed by the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, will provide accurate information on LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees living in the camp — a critical piece in more effective advocacy on behalf of the community.

In keeping with the organizations’ focus on local leadership, the research will be Kenyan-led. The researcher will conduct first-hand interviews with LGBTIQ refugees and asylum seekers, as well as community leaders in the camp and lead stakeholders. Based on the information gathered, the report will identify overarching issues facing the community, identify service and resource gaps, pinpoint solutions and make recommendations to address systemic challenges facing the community.

Kakuma refugee camp is a complex and challenging environment for LGBTIQ refugees and asylum seekers. This report aims to provide a deeper understanding that can lead to a number of multifaceted solutions to meet the urgent and critical needs of LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees in the camp, from improved living conditions to expedited resettlement.

We all having a duty to look out for the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. We need to prioritize the safety and protection on LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees and address the challenges they face on their journey to safety, Kakuma refugee camp, in Kenya in general and beyond. We must promote policies and practices that treat the forcibly displaced as fully human and with all the dignity and humanity that they deserve.

Log onto ORAM’s website for more information about our work in the camp.

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Opinions

Get ready for ‘Shot Girl Summer’ 2021

With masks down, smiling faces will soon be visible

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Rehoboth Beach Open, gay news, Washington Blade

Well, it’s almost May. And that makes it now one month away from Memorial Day — the unofficial start of gay D.C.’s summer, when we all rush to the still-too-cold-to-get-in waters of Rehoboth Beach. We crowd on Poodle Beach — our beach — and celebrate the start of the summer and, well, ourselves.

And we should, right? It’s been a year. And we deserve it. We’ve played by the rules (mostly), stuck to our bubbles, and stood in line to get our shots. The question “you a Pfizer or a Moderna gal?” will be echoed a thousand times up and down the East Coast, from Fire Island to South Beach. Slight prediction here — Moderna will be the shot to have. As that’s the one I got and that’s the one gay icon Dolly Parton championed. That and gay men like arbitrarily separating folks into groups. We can be snobby like that.

And I think we’re all ready for a little sun, a little sand under our toes, a little saltwater on our lips. Just pass by Logan Circle any Saturday or Sunday, and the poor grass is trying to keep up with the burgeoning crowds as best it can. Almost every square inch of the circle is full. And as the weather warms and more and more folks get the jab in the arm, the vibe is similar to the first day of school – excited faces greet others they haven’t seen in months.

And now word has it President Biden may be as soon as this week dropping the mandate of wearing a mask outdoors. Probably long overdue really. I was only wearing a mask outside around town so folks wouldn’t think I was a Republican. But with masks down, smiling faces will soon be visible.

I myself am off to Fire Island this summer. And wherever you’re planning on going or even if you’re just staying put, the question on everyone’s lips seems to be: “Do you think this summer will be somewhat normal?” The answer seems to be “I think so.” At least we know that it will certainly be better than it was. Incrementally we will get there. Every so often a new marker will be set — no masks for the vaccinated, more concerts, etc. And before we know it we’ll be back at underwear parties.

And many have predicted this summer will be a wild one. A new Roaring 20s, as we’ve been sitting on a spring for a while now — nowhere to go and nothing to do. But as we all prepare to go a little buck wild this summer, never regret it. We deserve it, and we’ve earned a ‘Shot Girl Summer.’ And yes the shot is a miracle, but one decades in the making. Let’s remember that just one reason why the vaccine was produced so quickly was that the mRNA technology it relies on came about largely due to the AIDS epidemic. Yes, it was all brought about by some incredibly talented scientists who deserve the credit and admiration of the entire world. But we can also credit the countless gay men who were in the streets, quite literally clashing with police and facing arrest, in order to pressure the government to act on AIDS. Just Google groups like ACT UP and people like Larry Kramer and you’ll see what I mean.

So, we deserve it. We made it, and in more ways than one. So have that Shot Girl Summer you so deserve. And don’t forget a lot of people helped get us here.

 

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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