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How LGBTQ-owned businesses are celebrating Pride Month

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Three people sit at a bar with drinks and smile for a photograph.

Rebellious founder and CEO Evie Smith Hatmaker (left) sharing a laugh with team members from the PR agency, Abigail Idiaquez (right) and Stephanie Guenther on a retreat. Courtesy Evie Smith Hatmaker

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We’ve talked about big corporations’ push to celebrate Pride Month. We’ve talked about how some companies move to decorate their brands with rainbow flags but fail to show more tangible support for the LGBTQ community.

But how are LGBTQ-owned businesses marking Pride this year?

Evie Smith Hatmaker. (Taylor Hatmaker)

For one queer- and woman-owned PR and consulting agency, it’s with not safe-for-work sock puppet comedy. The firm Rebellious is marking Pride, in part, by promoting a short comedy series produced by the men’s dating app, Scruff. It’s an example of queer businesses supporting each other during Pride.

“Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio spoke with Evie Smith Hatmaker, the CEO and founder of Rebellious, about her agency’s work with Scruff and why she started her firm “out of exhaustion.”  The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

David Brancaccio: So we’re living in Pride Month, many companies are saying supportive things. But one issue that we’ve been following here is really a question. Are these companies giving their business to firms run by LGBTQ+ people? What are you seeing?

Evie Smith Hatmaker: I mean, usually, if it’s not a queer-owned business and they’re really just, you know, doing what, you know, I think so many media outlets call “rainbow washing,” probably not. You know, we’ve always had the unique experience of being really, really busy during June. It’s probably one of our biggest, busiest months of the year.

Looking beyond the rainbow merchandise

Brancaccio: So when you see Pride themed merchandise offered at, you know, big department store chains, what’s your reaction? I mean, it’s not a negative reaction, but you probably have further questions.

Smith Hatmaker: Yeah, you know, the consumer of me is like, “Oh, cute rainbows.” But then, you know, the queer person inside of me is like, “Well, I wonder if they used a queer artist. I wonder if like any of the proceeds of this are going to be going back to queer causes.” And so I think, you know, a lot of companies out there will throw out their rainbow T-shirts in June. And it’s like, I think they kind of do it just because it makes them look good. But you know, I always encourage people to pull the thread and dig a little deeper to see like, where’s that money actually going? And like, who was actually involved?

Brancaccio: There’s also a focus on LGBTQ content creators and you have a role in that really.

Smith Hatmaker: Yeah, you know, unique to this year… A lot of queer companies like to contract us for June, like I said. But this year, we actually had the most amazing project that it was like a completely queer team for an original content series that Scruff was actually producing. And everybody from the producer to the creator, to us, it was just like a total queer project. Really just, you know, focused with the idea of bringing queer joy and a lot of silliness and a lot of fun. The series is called “Sock Suckers.” And it is a like, very Comedy Central-esque, not-safe-for-work puppet comedy short series.

Brancaccio: Yeah, maybe not safe at the moment for public radio. But you know, if you wanna look, you can look just not with the work computer, I get it. Scruff is a dating app, right?

Smith Hatmaker: Yeah, yeah. And we’ve actually had the pleasure of also working with the Her dating app as well. So I feel like we’re kind of, you know, we’ve gotten to work with both sides of the market and it’s a real honor.

Code-switching at work

Brancaccio: And you have long experience in PR, I think also worked in Silicon Valley for a good while. But help me understand you felt like you’re not allowed to be yourself in that earlier version of your career?

Smith Hatmaker: Yeah, you know, it’s really hard I think being anything but like the cookie cutter publicist. PR and marketing is really interesting because we are sort of taught to be reflections of our clients. You know, you’re sort of encouraged to essentially code-switch. I am very fortunate in that I’m, you know, very femme presenting. You know, we would say in the queer community that I “pass.” But you know, that’s not a great feeling, either. And also feeling like, you know, staff that did know that I was queer, like, didn’t quite know what to talk to me about. You know, I heard a lot about like people’s distant queer cousins, that had like nothing to do with them or what we were working on. So yeah, it was a lot of extra emotional energy, just to go to work.

Brancaccio: Must be part of the things that were on your mind when you decided to try to strike out on your own and start your firm.

Smith Hatmaker: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I started Rebellious really out of exhaustion. I never planned on growing an entire agency. But, you know, now we have a team of almost 20 people, 70% of our staff are LGBTQIA identified. It’s truly a magical place. And you know, one of the kindest things one of my staff members said to me a while ago is, you know, “Rebellious, you got to show up every day as yourself.” And I think that is something that I try not to take for granted.

“I’m not just gay in June”

Brancaccio: Part of the challenge here is to make Pride Month not end on June 30. You know, you’d want to see this kind of more of a year round thing.

Smith Hatmaker: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, I’m not just gay in June, let’s put it that way. You know, everybody out there who is queer, is queer for life and I think that there’s causes that should absolutely be paid attention to. I think it would be nice to see more of the queer business lists and book lists and causes to take up year round. And I think you know, for bigger corporations that you know, have been accused of rainbow washing or are rainbow washing like this is really putting your money where your mouth is. Like, support us 365 days a year.

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