This year’s Pride Month shift toward transgender advocacy, “family-friendly” drag shows and sexualized advertising is dividing some LGBT advocates as June draws to an end.
The growing Pride Month emphasis on the “T” in LGBT advocacy has come in response to recent laws in states such as Florida and Texas that restrict young people’s access to transgender resources like public school gender identity lessons and gender-altering medical treatments.
“Pride season always brings out creativity from marketers, with some dismay to gay consumers,” said Bob Witeck, president of the LGBT marketing firm Witeck Communications. “When the message uses sex in a specific way, it says to me that’s who they think I am.”
Mr. Witeck added in a telephone call that Pride Month messaging needs to be “as authentic as possible” to avoid giving the impression that events such as drag queen story hours and brunches open to small children are “sexualized events.”
“It’s not unusual that sexualizing comes about in advertising. What concerns me is that it plays into a stereotype that LGBTQ people are more sexualized than everyone else,” he said. “When we get defined as narrowly sexual people, we lose our full identity.”
The recent wave of events reflects a hard pivot this year for Pride Month — June’s annual celebration of gay rights — away from more conventional, rainbow-drenched ads featuring same-sex couples.
The Walt Disney Co. continued to promote transgender advocacy this month as part of an ongoing feud with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who signed a ban on gender identity discussions in K-3 public schools at the end of March.
Mr. DeSantis and Republican lawmakers in Texas also have flirted with the idea of making it illegal for parents to take children to “family-friendly” drag queen performances that companies ranging from Taco Bell to local gay nightclubs have hosted.
As part of a new Pride Month campaign this year, Uber-owned Postmates released a sexualized advertising campaign with gay sex references to “topping” and “bottoming” to promote a new “bottom-friendly menu” in Los Angeles and New York.
Burger King’s new “Pride Whopper” for customers in Austria, which featured either “two equal” top buns or bottom buns, led its advertising firm to apologize this month following a viral backlash from the LGBT community on Twitter.
In recent years, marketing campaigns for Dr Pepper and Cottonelle also have featured “top” and “bottom” references.
Some LGBT advocates have praised the increased focus on transgender rights in a year that has seen growing political battles over the use of transgender pronouns for gender-transitioning children in public schools.
Riah Gonzales-King, president of the Equality Chamber of Commerce’s DC Metro Chapter, said this year’s events showed the LGBTQ community has “pulled itself up by the bootstraps” since the 1969 Stonewall riots inspired the first Pride Month.
“I also think it’s important to uplift trans people and remind them that their fate is in their hands,” Ms. Gonzales-King said during a virtual panel in Washington on Wednesday.
But Gregory T. Angelo, president of the conservative New Tolerance Campaign, said much of the programming came across as “hypocritical” to right-leaning gay men like himself.
“Companies fell all over themselves to ‘out-rainbow’ each other on social media, while at the same time happily doing business with nations that persecute and even execute gay people,” he said. “Rainbow logos were curiously nowhere to be found on global brands’ Twitter feeds in the Middle East and China this month.”
Mr. Angelo, a former president of the Log Cabin Republicans, added that many businesses leaned into sexualized and gender-bending events this year to avoid “earning the ire of the Left.”
“Big Business’s celebration of sexual orientations and transgender identities during the month of June is largely performative,” Mr. Angelo said. “It’s become required of any corporation that wants to do business in the United States.”