This Pride Month, PR should live life through empathetic eyes

Someone from the LGBT Switchboard told me recently that a big misconception about being queer is that you only come out once. You don’t – you come out constantly.

Steve Strickland (left) with fellow Talker Tailor Trouble Maker co-founder Gary Wheeldon
Steve Strickland (left) with fellow Talker Tailor Trouble Maker co-founder Gary Wheeldon

Every time you have a new client, job, colleague or friend, there is a coming-out moment. Either driven by someone else or by me, I’ve not stopped coming out since 1999.

My coming-out journey was slow; first at home, to a working-class family of pub managers, builders and Catholic relatives who referred to anyone with a limp wrist as “that queer fella off the telly”, followed quickly by work.

Growing up, I had no idea what PR was, but I quickly found out what Soho was. I found out, as a young person navigating a precipice of “out” and “don’t treat me different”, that it was a haven of iniquity, queer culture and acceptance. I’m one of those lucky gays who others feel comfortable telling: “I didn’t ask because it’s kind of obvious” – despite, for a huge part of my life, I didn’t know I was gay or what being gay was. (I did enjoy men’s athletics more than most, though...)

One of my first roles in comms was not by chance, but from a recruiter who said my eventual boss was actively searching for a gay man to stand out from the rest of the business. I wasn’t told until later in my career but, looking back, I was one of the only male PAs. But I’m not mad at it. There was a place for proactive hiring to level up our industry.

It’s Pride Month, so whack your flags out, folks: we’re painting the town rainbow. Accusations of Pride-washing, corporatisation of queer events and the erosion of LGBTQ+ culture/spaces by mainstream forces with bigger voices and less fear (looking forward to seeing those YAASSS Queen T-shirts this summer) will resurface.

It’s easy to be another negative voice in it all, but, as someone who had his first HIV test alone because I was too afraid to tell anyone: representation matters, stories matter and being seen matters.

There is a small positive in every negative use of our identity for profit and, while not right, hopefully those that make mistakes, intentionally or naively – disrespectfully appropriating culture for cash – are weeded out by a collective. Collectively, we will get things wrong, but if Boris Johnson can get through 2020 and end up hitched, we can get through Pride Month, together. If I were allowed to suggest anything to make this Pride season feel more… proud, it would be to live life through empathetic eyes.

Our industry needs trans progressive policies before trans people join. Our clients need to represent us authentically and we must support our black, brown and Asian LGBTQ+ colleagues who are oppressively doubled down on.

And finally, just because some of us like a delivery of swollen goods every now and again, that doesn’t make us experts in LGBTQ+ comms or law. But those people exist. Speak to Switchboard, Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence and others.

Happy Pride, everyone.

Steve Strickland is co-founder of Talker Tailor Trouble Maker

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