Q+A: The Evolution of Pride

With the weekend of Pride celebrations about to begin, we had our CEO, Alec Samways (a straight, middle-aged man born and raised in England) sit down with his PA, Raphael Egbuniwe (a 24-year-old gay man who grew up in Nigeria) to discuss Pride, what it means, how it is getting bigger each year and how more and more brands are getting involved. 

Q. There’s a bit of an age difference between the two of you. How would you both describe the evolution/acceptance/understanding of homosexuality as a society/culture given your personal experiences?

A: There’s not that much of an age difference.

R: Um, there’s 25 years between us, babe.

Q.  Age before beauty, then?

A: One of the good things about being, ahem, of a certain vintage is that you can actually watch significant cultural progress happening. In my lifetime we’ve gone from a situation in Britain where there was absolutely zero acceptance or tolerance of anyone that even remotely deviated from the accepted sexual norm, to the current situation…to Pride! This great big party that’s beginning to tip into the mainstream.

R: It really is. I didn’t get to grow up in England, though. I grew up in Nigeria, a country that was – and still is – quite homophobic. Lucky for me, I moved here at the age of 12. Back then, even I wasn’t the most accepting of my own sexuality! I mean… what do you really expect from a 12-year-old kid?

Q. So, you’ve evolved yourself, too. How have you seen England change in the last 12 years?

R: When I first came here and started secondary school, it was still a massive insult to be called ‘gay’. That’s changed. I mean, younger friends of mine are even more open than I am! Their confidence and openness inspires me and says something about what to expect in the future.

Q. Can either of you (try) to pinpoint a catalyst for this evolution?

A: My take on it is that it’s always been led by the entertainment business. The people creating culture have often been gay, but no one used to talk about it.  And then I remember at school when Marc Almond and Boy George appeared on Top of the Pops. They blew our minds!

R: Gay culture has evolved so quickly because of pop culture. From television to music…there’s Gaga, Frank Ocean, Azealia Banks, Kaytranada, Madonna, Will and Grace, Queer Eye for The Straight Guy, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Hayley Kiyoko, Troye Sivan, Dua Lipa Janelle Monae and many, many more…

Q. So there’s been an evolution. Are we all the way there yet?

A: I don’t even know if we’re 10% of the way there. When we get to 100%, Pride won’t be about a suppressed or oppressed minority showing up and showing out and standing up for themselves. It will be about the whole nation being proud together.

R: Certain parts of the world are on their way but, again, somewhere like Nigeria…not even close.  I still talk to a load of people that I lived with in Nigeria and some are gay but STILL can’t be openly gay. Every single time I speak with them, they say, “Raph”, I wish I had the experience you had. I wish I could be open and live my best life!”

Q. Okay, so Pride is about expression?

R: Yes! That is what Pride is about. For a long time, loads of people couldn’t be who they were! We have parents and grandparents who STILL haven’t been able to come out for fear of being judged.

Q. Alec, are you learning a lot about the gay community and gay culture from younger colleagues like Raph?

A: Yes, I myself am on my own journey with understanding. I’m not the finished article yet. I wonder sometimes if, when I ask Raph questions – about his own journey, his social life, the lingo he uses –  and when I get shocked by some of the answers ha ha – if I’m not still part of the problem.

R: You are not part of the problem. The Alec that I’ve come to know and love is someone that is very open-minded and accepting. It’s quite refreshing for someone like you – who has watched the culture evolve – to be so willing and open to learning new things. Because that’s also what defines Pride.

Q. Openness? Is openness what Pride is about?

R: Yes, openness is Pride. It’s easy to see that homophobia really equates to a lack of understanding. There is no willingness to understand. There is no willingness to learn. Pride is about asking questions and questioning norms. Like, okay… you’ve told me X, Y and Z are wrong. But, WHY are they wrong?

A:  It can sometimes be difficult to know how to ask questions, though. Like, once when I was younger, one of my black mates told me how pissed off he’d get when white people would ask to touch his hair. So that sort of fear of “Is this the right kind of curiosity?” persists a bit.

R: The right kind of curiosity is the curiosity that you have. It comes from a place of wanting to understand. It’s AUTHENTIC. It’s genuine. I wouldn’t appreciate a person I do not know touching my hair… but I won’t shy away from questions on how I take care of my hair from a person I do not know… do you see the difference?

Q. Does it come down to empathy?

R: Yes, it comes to down empathy. It comes down to being genuine and human.

A: I suppose there’s a difference between looking at someone as…as… almost a specimen, a curiosity, versus genuinely wanting to learn. I want to learn about everything! I am genuinely interested in people. You think about what defines and drives Splendid: People-First Creativity. So what does that involve? Asking questions! Being open! Trying to understand and being empathetic. Ultimately, gaining insight. And that doesn’t just apply to our creative work. It’s our attitude as a company and it always has been.

Q. Did you expect to find that from an employer?

R: I didn’t, no! But that shows how homosexuality has evolved over the years, too. 40 years ago, men couldn’t even say the word ‘gay’. Now, I’m sitting here with my CEO and we’re talking about our differences and that’s a beautiful thing.

Q. Brands are talking about it, too. How do you both view brands that celebrate Pride through their campaigns?

R: It’s better to do something that supports a cause than to do nothing. I give all brands props. Ten points for diversity, ten points for supporting the cause. AT THE SAME TIME, if you’re doing something for Pride, make sure you’re not just doing it for one month a year. Genuinely support us year-round. That could come from diversity in the workplace or supporting an LGBTQ charity.

A: Brands putting money behind a cause like this can only be a good thing because it’s spreading the message to a wider audience. We’re activating for The AA because it has a genuine interest in the LGBTQ community. It’s an internal message to staff saying “We’re proud of you, regardless of your sexual orientation” and it is also consistent with the AA advertising message which is “Whoever you are, we’ll get you there”. A message like this could reach people who otherwise wouldn’t have talked about Pride. They could be more accepting of it because they’ve seen that an established institution like The AA is behind it.

Q. You both mentioned the importance of being genuine…

A: Yes, the important thing is that any campaign or activation is genuine. Every Friday in our Splendid Loves meeting, we dissect campaigns and look at the growing amount of purpose-led campaigns and ask questions like “Is it authentic?” “Does it fit with the brand?”  “Is it beneficial?” “Does this creative execution accurately reflect and support the cause, or is it just stereotypical images that are borrowed from the cause?”

R: Being genuine is very important. But, all attention is good attention. Brands can’t be faulted for it.

A: At the end of the day, Raph, I think what you’re saying is it’s all good, just make sure we’re always getting better.

R: Yes indeed, sister!

A: Mate, you can’t call me sister…

R: Stop calling me mate, then. It’s way too straight.

Keep up with us on Facebook, Twitter @SplendidComms and our blog to see our thoughts on the latest Pride campaigns. Oh, and if you’re looking for a soundtrack for your weekend, check out this week’s Tuesday Tune Club playlist, filled with bangers from our favourite LGBTQ artists, allies and icons.