What happens if you put 20,000 lesbians in a desert and give them a lot of alcohol and a large swimming pool? There are plenty of plausible answers, but the correct one, in this case, is The Dinah Shore Weekend. Column by Guardian writer and brand strategist, Arwa Mahdawi.
Share this post
Every year there’s a big festival and pool party in Palm Springs, California, for queer women called The Dinah. In March 2016 I went along and wrote about my experience for the Guardian: the article went viral for obvious reasons.
I’m not bringing this up to boast about going moderately viral seven years ago, but because I keep thinking about how radically different early 2016 felt to 2023. In early 2016 every brand out there was trying to get in with the LGBTQ community. Numerous big brands, including Bud Light, sponsored that Dinah weekend; their advertising was everywhere. When my article went viral (have I mentioned it went viral?), high-profile conservative accounts tweeted it, but I didn’t get harassed for the piece. Conservatives didn’t start boycotting Bud Light. There wasn’t a moral panic. People, even right-wingers, just enjoyed a light-hearted article about a light-hearted weekend.
Things are a lot less light-hearted now: this is the weirdest Pride month I’ve experienced in my 20 years of being out as a gay woman. For the last few years the right has been dialling up attacks on the LGBTQ community. These attacks have taken various forms including US laws restricting any mention of sexual orientation in schools and mobs crashing drag queen story hour events at libraries. Now a new tactic in the right-wing war against progress has emerged: intimidating brands into disassociating themselves from the LGBTQ community.
I presume everyone reading this is well aware of what happened when Bud Light sent a few personalised cans of beer to trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney in April. If you somehow missed this brouhaha, you can read in-depth explainers here and here and here. In brief: the right staged a boycott against Bud Light for associating themselves with Mulvaney. That resulted in Bud Light sales plummeting and two marketing executives getting put on leaves of absence by Anheuser-Busch, Bud Light’s parent company. Almost two months on those executives are still being hounded by right-leaning tabloids.
Buoyed by their success with Bud Light, US conservatives have been waging war on any other brand they think is acting a little too queer in Pride month. Target, North Face, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Starbucks: those are just some of the brands who have been targeted by the right for supporting the LGBTQ community.
What is happening right now shouldn’t be summed up with insipid words like ‘backlash.’ Rather, it is a coordinated intimidation campaign with the eventual aim of removing LGBTQ people from public life; the right has even admitted this. “The goal is to make ‘pride’ toxic for brands,” conservative pundit Matt Walsh tweeted recently. “If they decide to shove this garbage in our face, they should know that they’ll pay a price.”
As an advertiser, you now have two options: you can stand with love or you can stand with hate. You can choose to continue supporting the LGBTQ community or you can back away from us in an ill-advised attempt to pacify a small but vocal minority of people who want to rewind decades of progress. You can choose to worry about your short-term sales being affected by right-wing boycotts or you can choose to think about how your long-term brand might be affected by acquiescing to bullies.
Perhaps the biggest point I want to make here is that a choice needs to be made. The culture wars are going to come for you, like it or not. Every brand needs to understand how it’s going to react to a possible right-wing boycott; it needs to understand whether it is OK with throwing its LGBTQ customers under the bus.
As a US-based member of the WFA DEI Task Force said in a recent meeting, difficult decisions need to be made. “As corporates we have to decide if we are going to fight the good fight. And that fight isn’t just in our industry; it’s societal and it’s systemic. These prejudices will take years, lifetimes, to overcome. That’s why if our companies choose to fight the good fight, they stay in it for the long term and don’t back out when faced with backlash or short-term hits on sales.”
Brands don’t have a responsibility to change the world. I’m not looking for my toilet paper brand or my favourite beer to create peace in the Middle East or ensure LGBTQ equality. But I am looking for them not to side with people who actively want me silenced at best, and dead at worst. This Pride month you’ve got an important decision to make: I hope you choose to fight the good fight instead of myopically worrying about your Q4 earnings.