North Central News

North Central faculty move the conversation on LGBTQIA+ issues forward during Pride Month … and always

Jacob Imm

Jun 30, 2021

In recognition of Pride Month, North Central College looked to highlight some of the outstanding work by our faculty to help North Central students examine key issues for the LGBTQIA+ community. Carly Drake, assistant professor of marketing, and Suzanne Chod, professor of political science and coordinator of gender and sexuality studies, share their expertise on critical current events they talk about in their classes as well as how they get students involved in the conversation.

Q: What is rainbow washing and how can it be identified? Why is it problematic?

Carly Drake: Rainbow washing is when firms appear to be celebrating pride or promoting LGBTQIA+ rights without doing anything to change the structural forces, such as discriminatory policies, that keep LGBTQIA+ individuals marginalized socially, politically and economically.

On a social level, rainbow washing is problematic because it gives the appearance of social progress without anyone having to do the work of enacting that social progress, like political organizing or ensuring the equitable distribution of resources.

For individual consumers, rainbow washing can be misleading. We think we are supporting or promoting socially progressive companies, or even donating to their causes, but our involvement with them will have little measurable impact on the causes we care about.

Q: How can marketers properly reach out to consumers from the LGBTQIA+ community in today's climate? What potential implications can marketing have for people's sense of self when it comes to gender and sexuality?

Drake: Marketing is impactful because it is all around us, all the time. Marketing that clashes with, threatens, or diminishes our identities, including those related to gender and sexuality, can be devastating. Subtle cues about gender and sexuality are present even in mundane advertising that doesn’t intend to be political. For example, we often see advertisements with straight couples or even gay couples, but how might marketers represent bisexuality in advertising? Making these kinds of representations feel like a normal part of our cultural landscape could be really powerful.

Marketers can learn a lot from talking to LGBTQIA+ consumers even outside of a Pride Month or activist context. Empathy goes a long way in any conversation, as does amplifying voices that are typically marginalized. Ask people how they are doing and what they need and listen to the answers. Recognize that if you are coming from a position of power, you cannot know this issue better than those who experience it every day.

Q: What is the Equality Act, and what effect could it have on the LGBTQIA+ community?

Suzanne Chod: The 2021 Equality Act was passed in the House (of Representatives) in February and is sitting in the Senate Judiciary Committee now. It defines and includes sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity as prohibited categories of discrimination or segregation. Specifically, it prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system. It also allows the Department of Justice to intervene in equal protection actions in federal court on cases involving discrimination or segregation based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Practically speaking, this bill (if passed by the Senate and signed into law) extends existing civil right laws and (Supreme) Court rulings to members of the LGBTQIA+ community. It provides for full citizenship for a community still facing discrimination, segregation, and violence. One specific thing to note in the act is that it would make it illegal to bar a trans person from using the bathroom or locker room of their gender identity. This is integral to be included as many states have passed their own legislation on this.

Q: What do you think are reasons for the recent rise in anti-transgender legislation being introduced? What is important for the public to know about the potential implications of these laws?

Chod: The last few elections maintained and obtained new Republican majorities in state legislatures. With a Democratic House, split Senate, and Democratic White House, many of these states feel they need these laws to protect their states from potential federal government action. While not all the bills pass, like the one in Montana that would criminalize providing certain medical treatments to transgender minors, the effects of the attempts cannot be understated. These laws signal not only to the LGBTQIA+ community but everyone that (the LGBTQIA+ community does) not deserve the same protections under the law … that others get.

Q: What lasting message do you want students and others to take away from Pride Month?

Chod: Like all months dedicated to historically minoritized communities, Pride Month is a way to shed light on the progress and ongoing struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community. But we cannot forget after June is over. Get involved! Speak out! Donate your time and funds if you can! Here are some organizations that help the community: 

  • The Center for Black Equality
  • OutRight Action International
  • Trans Lifeline
  • The Trevor Project
  • The Marsha P. Johnson Institute
  • SAGE
  • National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color 

Q: What is your strategy for engaging students in discussions of gender identity and sexuality? What have you found are good ways to create an open, constructive dialogue on these issues?

Drake: My strategy in discussing these topics with students is to weave them into everyday learning. It isn’t enough to have one week out of a 16-week class be devoted to talking about social issues, because these issues permeate every aspect of our very social jobs as marketers.

I also make it clear to students that I approach my job with a bias: I want marketing to make people feel included, and there is no place in my classroom for discrimination or hate. I am completely steadfast and unapologetic in setting this tone, which means my students know they can be vulnerable in their learning. They can ask big questions and share their experiences. When we realize that we are all trying to be better together, the classroom becomes less about getting and giving grades and more about helping each other.

Chod: As a political scientist and coordinator of the College’s gender and sexuality studies program, my job is to open up dialogues about the institutional and societal inequities, especially in an intersectional way. This can be challenging, especially in the current political climate. Speaking from the U.S. context, I center the discussion on the 14th Amendment that provides equal protection under the law. More specifically, it prohibits states from making or enforcing any law that discriminates against citizens.

Living as one’s true, authentic self is living as a full citizen; and full citizenship is afforded to all in the 14th Amendment. This approach asks students to think about personhood and how the Constitution, laws, and Court rulings have addressed it. It helps them see how they might have privileges that make it easier for them to move through the public sphere in ways others cannot.  

Q: Why is it vital, especially right now, for students to think and talk about gender and sexuality?

Drake: The world is changing every day, and it is becoming less and less feasible to be insulated from conversations about gender and sexuality. This is a good thing. Being a part of these conversations will make us better learners, but also better family members, friends, and colleagues. There may come a day when having a basic vocabulary to draw on with regard to this topic can help a student support a friend through a difficult time or create something at work that can make a difference in others’ lives. When we see the changing world as an opportunity, rather than a threat, that can make all the difference.

Chod: None of us is immune to the effects of white supremacy and systemic racism, sexism, and homophobia. Whether you benefit from them, or are oppressed by them, these discussions are paramount in understanding our own experiences in the context of others’. Examining ourselves is an integral part of the College experience, and we cannot examine ourselves and our identities without being pushed to see outside our bubbles.