On the day of Pride celebrations in any town or city, the high street, companies and people change their logo to Pride colours, but it quickly vanishes…
I believe support for the LGBTQIA+ community should be all year round. Not just for Pride during June, getting out your rainbow flags as a badge of honour, to quickly put them back in the cupboard for next year. One of the best ways to ensure pinkwashing doesn’t happen is by using LGBTQIA+ companies who understand the needs and complexities that can come with being a member of a marginalised group of people.
This year being the 50th anniversary of Pride in the UK it’s all the more important to showcase and highlight those people that run businesses that have the community at the heart of their values and support the community.
Two of these are MS Represents, representing diverse models, artists, dancers, influencers, and choreographers. The team works hard all year round to continuously advocate and provide inclusivity and opportunities within the industry for the LGBTQIA+ community. Brought to you by casting director, Mark Summers, MS Represents with a strong belief that “Uniqueness is a wonderful thing.”
The other is Popstacular, an LGBTQIA+ owned and run streetwear, casual fashion, and vegan-friendly brand. All its designers are mainly from the LGBTQIA+ community. The creatives often showcase their life experiences within their merchandise, sending out a strong message for the community to be seen and heard.
Mark Summers and Popstacular were honoured to collaborate for a Pride 50th Celebration campaign to showcase the inclusivity of both their models and merchandise and I spoke to them about their thoughts behind the campaign and their ethos.
MARK SUMMERS OF MS REPRESENTS
Can you tell me what your thoughts are about Pride and pinkwashing?
It’s an interesting question, and I think it’s one that can make people scared to share their thoughts. That said, it is important that we have the conversation because, for me, Pride shouldn’t just be about shining a light for a month and then our community falls back into the shadows. People don’t stop being who they are once Pride is over, and while we appreciate the support and acknowledgement, it can feel like people take one badge off and then all too quickly change it for another.
Having a logo with the Pride flag and a few supportive words isn’t enough. If you don’t want to be accused of pinkwashing then get the LGBTQIA+ community involved, work together, learn about our experiences, and respect us all year round. We need them to really think about what they’re doing and how they’re portraying the community. I believe that some brands can get it so horribly wrong, as with any minority group, and having a gay friend or watching RuPaul’s Drag Race doesn’t mean you understand the community.
It makes it all feel forced and quite awkward. If companies and brands are going to use the Pride flag for one month only, they will lack credibility, be accused of pinkwashing and be questioned as to their true motives. So I would say to corporate organisations that before you hoist the Pride flag think about what comes after and what you’re really doing to support inclusivity after Pride.
Most people don’t know you were born Mark Sumariwalla, can you tell me why you changed your name and diversity matters so much to you?
I’m very proud of my heritage which is Parsi; my parents came to this country and were not from the entertainment industry. My mum was from Ireland, and my dad was from Bombay, now Mumbai. I auditioned when I was very young for The Barbara Speake Stage School, which was run by June Collins. June started noticing an unconscious bias early on, and told my father, “Mr Sumariwalla, I’m going to be frank and honest with you, some clients and casting directors are not calling in your son because they are not used to seeing somebody with such a name looking the way he does.” It was suggested I changed my name, which I did out of necessity to get into the entertainment industry.
My ethnicity is not immediately apparent which has meant is that in my career I’ve been witness to racial comments, spoken in front of me in the belief that I was white. That left a mark, so for me, it’s always been important to be inclusive and help people from different backgrounds. It’s about helping people from different communities, ethnicities and cultures, who don’t get the right opportunities. Within Mark Summers, we push for a diverse and inclusive agenda, and I want to encourage and show people that they shouldn’t limit themselves. Ultimately, it’s about being proud of who I am and where I came from, and I want other people to feel the same.
You speak up a lot about LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the creative industry – can you expand on this?
I’m really pleased that we are seeing more artists from the community on screen, and I genuinely believe many companies and brands are trying to be inclusive. However, it can still feel like they’re ticking a box because that’s what they feel they need to do. It’s a bit of everyone else is so we need to jump on this trend too. That misses the point because this isn’t just about actors or performers being seen, it’s about an inclusive entertainment industry, where everyone, regardless of their minority status, feel accepted.
Thirty years on and I’m still one of a few biracial, gay casting directors, and my company has pretty much been a 99% female-led casting businesses. So, we need to ensure that as an industry we keep pushing for diversity in all areas, whether that’s producers, crew, or actors – it all needs to be fully inclusive! I want to see positive role models in advertising and real-life stories about culture and diversity.
As a diverse casting director, for me, it is so important to keep working to educate the industry. So, in schools, educating about different cultures and diversity needs to continue because education can lead to a far greater level of tolerance and acceptance in the future generation. We live in a world where there is still a long way to go before we’re all seen as equal. My wish is that we will eventually get to the stage where people are not scared to celebrate who they are.
“Having a logo with the Pride flag and a few supportive words isn’t enough. If you don’t want to be accused of pinkwashing then get the LGBTQIA+ community involved, work together, learn about our experiences, and respect us all year round.”
JASON WATSON-TODD, POPSTACULAR CO-OWNER
How was Popstacular born and what are your thoughts about pinkwashing?
I’ve been involved in art and graphic design for many years, both working for myself and various projects. During the early months of Covid I thought we could all do with a bit of colour and fun while the pandemic raged on and so Popstacular was born. I began online as Pop Goes The Weazel with less than five artists on board three years ago. Along with my husband Jon we called on various artists I’d met throughout my career and offered them an opportunity to place their art on clothing – we now have over 15 artists with more waiting to join us.
We work with original art which is placed on various types of clothing and merchandise. This somewhat unusual process lets you buy and wear original art directly from the artist. A select few of these designs are limited runs with only 50 available worldwide which come with a numbered certificate of authenticity. Designers include Sue Tilley whose Leigh Bowery designs are a firm favourite and Rae (Cult of Rae). We give our creatives a platform to showcase their art in a safe space where they can be their authentic selves.
We also support LGBTQIA+ organisations close to our hearts including Mermaids, AKT and Terrence Higgins Trust, by donating a portion of our sales profits. We created a design for Lesbian Visibility Week for founder Linda Riley, proceeds from sales were shared between Galop and Stonewall Housing.
Pinkwashing is abundant, whilst there are some exceptions, a lot of companies use Pride as a cash grab with little care or understanding of our beautiful diverse community. Putting a rainbow flag on something doesn’t make it Pride, that’s why with our own Pride merchandise collection, we are trying to make something special and unique. Pride started as an activism-led movement and that is diminishing, we still have a long way to go.
“Pinkwashing is abundant, whilst there are some exceptions, a lot of companies use Pride as a cash grab with little care or understanding of our beautiful diverse community. ”
PICTURES Amy Cook MUA: Esra