by Jerry ElengicalJun 25, 2022
It is June – Pride month is here, bringing along with it, a plethora of sassy, colourful captions floating on social media such as this – 'There is no such thing as being extra in June'. Though there is no such thing as being extra any time of the year (one would like to believe that being extra is allowed whenever, wherever), this month, in particular, is a celebration of the global queer community and with it comes a flood of support, both sincere and tokenish, across industries, companies, brands, and events, garbed in loud colours and glittery initiatives, representative of the LGBTQIA+ communities' flag.
Commemorating the Stonewall riots of 1969, the first Pride parade took place in June in the following year by gay activists in New York City. Over the last 50 years, different countries, organisations, and brands joined the cause with the world exclusively celebrating inclusivity in June. With time, the notions of addressing Pride Month have travelled through the queer and trans rights movements to a festivity that celebrates gender equality for everyone. While the month unites people around the globe to erase the stigma revolving around the LGBTQIA+ community, raise awareness of myriad issues faced by them, and to increase their visibility and respect in society, global brands and companies show their support by branding their products on the theme of 'Pride'. Though many brands carry this out purely on marketing grounds, some genuinely stand by them, acknowledging their proper rights, and get involved in creating an inclusive space for all, through their campaigns and endeavours.
American tech giant Microsoft, the second highest-rated workplace experience for LGBTQ+ employees in 2022, is one such company that strives for inclusivity through year-long efforts (or so they claim). Last year, Xbox created a limited batch of Pride controllers and shared it with LGBTQIA+ players and creators around the world. Though the vision was positively embraced, the gaming community wasn’t entirely pleased with the 'limited edition' concept, only available to online influencers. So this year, Team Xbox introduced the Pride Controller 2022, which can be customised through Xbox Design Lab to the gamer's preference, "because every gamer deserves the right to be seen and heard", making the wireless controller widely available for anyone to order.
Under the theme, 'Gaming should be a matter of Pride', Microsoft has designed this year’s console inspired by the identities and stories of people from the LGBTQIA+ community. The top case design of the Pride Controller 2022 brings together 34 community flags as patterned collages and straight strokes, interwoven with parts of the controller’s body, customisable from a broad multi-colour palette, metallic finishes, rubberised grips and unique engraving. Celebrating the nuance, complexity, intersectionality, and strength of the many gender spectrums, the controller reinstates Xbox’s initiative to make gaming spaces a place where anyone can play as their authentic self and enjoy a community that welcomes self-expression. “This isn’t just a controller. It’s a symbol of the LGBTQIA+ communities that inspired it, and a call to continue efforts toward inclusion and representation across all gaming spaces. So, we are bringing together dozens of voices of LGBTQIA+ gamers, developers, content creators and Microsoft employees within an immersive storytelling experience,” shares Kate Rayner, Vice President, Technical Director at The Coalition and Member of Team Xbox LGBTQIA+.
Though the excessive, sometimes brainless rainbow-washing of products during Pride month has been widely criticised over the years, the social impact and influence of some efforts do seem to contribute in vocalising the rights and inclusivity of the LGBTQIA+ communities. Apart from the Pride Controller 2022, Microsoft is donating a total of $170,000 to non-profits including OutRight Action International, African Rainbow Family, National Center for Transgender Equality, Mermaids, Lavender Rights Project, and Fulcrum UA. Emphasising on 'Pride has no borders', Microsoft also conducted a Metaverse Pride event on June 17, 2022 and the Xbox Publishing will be hosting a live streaming of the award-winning narrative adventure from Dontnod Entertainment, Tell Me Why, to fundraise for Trans Lifeline on June 23, 2022. Additionally, the Xbox Gear Shop will have a new 2022 Pride collection including Surface 2022 Pride skin design for laptops, all created by and with members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
While it is heartening to see such initiatives, especially ones that donate to social causes and use their reach for good causes, it is to be noted that major, capitalistic corporations pushing their way into the "inclusivity" fight might just be for show, to bring people to their platforms and buy into their services. In the end, it is just another product with a fancy, vibrant, rainbow-patterned skin. But is it enough? Activism must follow up with actionable strategies and routes that bring attention and empowerment to the queer space, where their stories and struggles are rightfully represented, discussed and supported.
(Text by Sunena V Maju, intern at STIRworld)