In the run up to Pride, companies need to learn how to really be allies

Being an ally is about more than waving a Pride flag (Picture: Getty Images)

‘Roberto is due to give birth to his and Erika’s son Noah any day now.’

That was the caption for a recent Calvin Klein US Mother’s Day post on Instagram, underneath a picture of a pregnant trans man and his partner.

When I saw the ad, my first thoughts were that it’s really positive and the visibility of different pregnant people and their bodies is something to be celebrated. People are so diverse, and so are families — in particular queer families.

I was also happy to see something different on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, as advertisements are usually very heteronormative and focused on gender stereotypes. 

But as I scrolled through the comments, I noticed the usual anti-trans drivel piled up – including offensive misgendering and name-calling.

I’m always surprised people seem to have so much time to comment abuse and hate online. I can’t imagine it’s healthy for you, and it does nothing but bring more misery into the world. It’s really depressing.

The negative comments surrounding the ad were simply a testament of how far we still have to go in terms of fighting stigma and hate directed at trans people for simply existing in their bodies.

But even if positive ads from major companies like Calvin Klein can have a positive impact, I also wondered what they are doing beyond this advertisement.

Companies often use a community that is visible in the media in order to capitalise off public discussions — and right now, trans people are constantly being discussed and debated.

While it’s definitely positive they’ve decided to take an inclusive stand that will no doubt benefit their brand, companies need to take things further than that.

If they don’t, they are simply engaging in pinkwashing, which is when companies try to make a profit and boost their own image by using a marginalised community – without making any meaningful impact or commitment to helping and supporting that community. 

So what exactly are they doing beyond an ad campaign? Are their clothing lines reflective of gender diverse people and bodies? Do they have trans-inclusive policies for their staff? Are they supporting LGBT+ charities or trans-specific charities? Are they taking a stand internationally for LGBT+ rights and using their power to influence change?

Upon a quick search on Calvin Klein’s website, the first thing you have to choose is whether you are looking for clothing for ‘women’ or ‘men’, which doesn’t quite seem in tune with the diversity and inclusivity they claim to represent, both with that ad and beyond that.

If a company wants to show that it’s inclusive of gender diversity, they must also recognise that gendered clothing continues to enforce stereotypes, and that women and men should dress in certain ways.

Most people I know – myself included – often shop clothes in the ‘opposite’ section, simply because the fit is sometimes better. A more inclusive and accurate division would perhaps be ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, as it doesn’t create the same division.

Besides the fact that gendering clothing is outdated as a concept and it should be more focused on the fit itself, it doesn’t seem like they’ve thought about all the details and what true inclusion looks like.

They do, however, have a section called ‘Pride’, which shows a wide range of queer people of different genders, with different types of bodies and expressions. While this is incredibly positive and great to see, it’s clear that this hasn’t been mainstreamed into the rest of their clothing lines.

All the people getting angry over a pregnant trans man and his partner being depicted illustrate exactly why representation like that is still important

On further inspection, the company’s manufacturing is, in part, in countries where it’s illegal to be LGBT+ – like Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Bangladesh – instead of taking a stance with LGBT+ rights and halting production in those places.

While I always celebrate companies making ads and increasing the visibility of LGBT+ people, I often feel like brands need to do more. They have incredible power and influence, and they can use it to be allies to our community.

I know that change doesn’t happen overnight and often making such commitments is a long process, but if companies truly care about equality and inclusion, they need to start that process and make the necessary steps. Their whole company needs to reflect what they claim to stand for. 

Being an ally is about more than waving a Pride flag and making an inclusive ad about a community. It’s about being consistent in your allyship, mainstreaming inclusion into your whole company, as well as making policies for your staff, customers and everyone you engage with so that you can be an inclusive environment for everyone. 

It’s also about giving back with funds – as most LGBT+ charities are shamefully underfunded and not supported enough to do the lifesaving work that they do.

Calvin Klein has given donations to LGBT+ charities before – such as the Trevor Project, ILGA and the Transgender Defense and Education Fund – which is incredibly positive. But some companies fail to do this, or make very small donations in comparison to the profit they make. 

It’s more important than ever that companies make a stand for trans inclusion, and put their money where their mouth is. Otherwise it will be little but lip service, where they use our community to make themselves look better, without actually supporting the community in a meaningful way.

The trans community needs that support more than ever, and companies with such influence have a chance to make a real and meaningful impact.

All the people getting angry over a pregnant trans man and his partner being depicted illustrate exactly why representation like that is still important, and why we all need to support and elevate trans experiences and lives.

I hope that more companies and brands will start using their influence to positively represent underrepresented communities — and that they will do so in a committed, involved and meaningful way.

We still have a long way to go in terms of trans rights, and in raising awareness of queer families in general. Pregnant trans men are a part of reality, whether some people on social media like it or not.

We deserve to be recognised and supported just like everyone else, and transphobic people cannot change the fact that we are here and proud of who we are — and we’re not going anywhere. 

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected] 

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