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June 30, 2020

Hospitality has turned Pride into a business strategy

Pride is one month but queer inclusion needs to be everyday

At 11:59 pm tonight, Pride month comes to another end. Restaurants, beverage brands, and hospitality businesses will take down their rainbow flags and window decals, discontinue promotional materials and special edition products, make their social media platforms less gay, and LGBTQIA+ staff will fade back into the noise. These businesses will have felt they have checked the box of inclusion and acceptance, while things remain mostly the same for the queer community. 

Pride is a month of celebration, remembrance, and reflection for the queer community. It is an emotional month. It is not a month for businesses to abuse our identities to make profit. Many LGBTQIA+ question whether the month established out of protest and demand for equality has lost its meaning, becoming another structure of tokenism and business strategy. The food space, whether it be restaurants and hospitality, beverage, food publishers, or food media, has progressed slowly toward inclusivity despite the fact that the restaurant and foodservice industry has a large queer population. 

Simply hiring queer staff and posting on social media “happy pride” does not establish a safe and healthy environment for queer people to work in or patronize. And it does not make you an ally or inclusive. Pride was created by, and made for, the queer community to celebrate our history, present, and future. But like many social justice movements, the intent of equality, respect, and dignity is being abused by mass media and business opportunity. 

If the businesses that occupy the food space want to create inclusion with intent, more has to be done than superficially and temporarily celebrating your queer employees. When looking at staffing charts, notice who identifies as LGBTQIA+ and the positions they hold. Are those positions all supporting roles, or does leadership represent the queer community? Look within and see if queer voices are represented in the business. When making a conscious decision to hire queer staff, stop and think how the structure of your business supports all marginalized communities. If the environment is not safe and healthy and staff morale is not managed and respectfully taken care of, hiring queer staff is not creating an inclusive space, but baiting them into another toxic and abusive environment. 

When businesses look at June and think of it as a business strategy or marketing opportunity, they ignore the consequences of rapid amplification of oppressed voices with no support. If for only 30 days a member of the queer community within the business is placed at the forefront and used as marketing, given more opportunities to have a dish on the menu, or finds their voice welcome in media only to be silenced when July 1 comes, you give them false hope. You build someone’s self-confidence and return their dignity, then take it back just as quickly as it was given with no explanation. It is emotional abuse that sabotages someone’s self-worth. 

The queer community does not exist for only one month. We exist everyday, and are everywhere. We deserve equal opportunity, we deserve to hold leadership roles, we deserve to tell our stories, and we deserve to run our own businesses. We deserve respect, and most certainly deserve to not be seen merely as business strategy. 

We have our own community within the food space, we have our version of hospitality, we contribute to the structure of food and its history and are just now telling those stories. Our food has been and will always be rooted in activism, respite, and community. We are everywhere, standing next to you on the line. Serving you the expensive bottle of wine. We welcome you in and take care of you. We do all of this 12 months of the year, and want to be seen and respected even outside of June. 

Do not forget about us come July. We still exist and will show up to work the same way we did before June, during June, and the months after. Do not let the imagery of Pride fool you — we are not always flashy or Pride flag-toting individuals. We are people with history that live everyday with that history, and deserve equal opportunity and respect everyday. We ask that you celebrate us year-long — and let us celebrate ourselves in June.  —Justin Burke 


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