June is Pride month, a time to celebrate the LGBTQ community. Advocates say South Dakota law and legislation are not friendly to the state’s LGBTQ population. But there are more Pride events in the state every year.
Some businesses show support with rainbow flags while others sell merchandise. That kind of marketing has a long, complicated history with opponents and defenders from within the LGBTQ community.
Stacey Berry and her husband co-own Covert Artisan Ales in downtown Sioux Falls. They opened in 2019-- the same year the city had its first sanctioned Pride parade.
Berry said she and her husband are allies of the LGBTQ community.
“We have the inclusion flag hanging in our taproom. And we have had people come in and see the flag and walk out, but it's like that’s not really the kind of business I need,” Berry said.
They wanted to do something special for Pride and created a locally produced drink. It’s a rainbow-themed hard seltzer they call Project Inclusion.
Berry says they want to help celebrate Pride but was hesitant about how their idea might be perceived.
“It's not trying to make money off of Pride,” she said. “I felt really weird about that, actually. But I think being in a state like South Dakota it's really important to have people stand up and just have a like, say, Hey, you know, you can come to us, you can be here, you can be a safe space.”
Before moving forward with the seltzer Berry contacted Matt Neufeld, the president of Sioux Falls Pride. She wanted to know what he thought of the idea. He liked it. He knows Berry and her husband and knows they are allies. Plus a portion of their sales will go to the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that focuses on suicide prevention in the LGBTQ community.
Efforts to sell products to people in specific demographic populations is called niche marketing, something Alexandra Chasin studies. She’s an associate professor of literary studies at Lang College in New York, and she’s written about a change in marketing strategies in the early 1990’s.
“There’s a fairly cynical turn on the part of mainstream corporate actors to start advertising to gays and lesbians,” sha said. “And the reason that they did [was], basically, profit motive.”
“The other thing that folds into that is corporations understanding that they want to target what has been called an untapped market,” she said.
Chasin said many people embraced these new gay friendly businesses, but some were more cynical. But she says what Stacy Berry is doing at Covert Artisan Ales is very different. Chasin sees value in it, especially in a conservative state like South Dakota.
“It means something very different than it means walking up Fifth Avenue, or, you know, walking in West Hollywood,” she said.
However, Chasin said she understands Berry’s nervousness. Any public gesture can invoke criticism, from LGBTQ groups or people who oppose them.
Quinn Kathner is the founder of Queen on the Scene. It’s an online shop that sells Pride pins and accessories. She’s also a proud member of the queer community, which Kathner said matters.
“A couple years ago, I was at a major pride festival and I was really, really excited to buy some rainbow merchandise,” she said. “I was talking with the vendor and learned that it was someone who wasn't part of the community [and] had no intention of giving back. They were just there to make money.”
A year later she started her company. Kathner thinks visibility matters and adds that wearing rainbow gear sends a message that queer people exist in South Dakota. But she thinks where that gear comes from is important.
“Businesses that have no intention of giving back, but we're valuable enough for the community to advertise to and market to,” she said. “It just feels vapid and shallow.”
For Kathner who sells Pride merchandise matters, but not everyone agrees. Dana Berry has a different take.
“Why should I be offended? Some people may just want to buy something for cheap to support their cause,” she said “You need to look at the bigger picture rather than the smaller details.”
Dana is 18 and came out as bisexual almost six years ago and she’s also Stacy Berry’s daughter. Dana said her sexuality is a nonissue with her parents and she loves that they are allies, both privately and professionally.
“They really just want everyone to feel welcome. They're amazing,” she said.
Dana is excited about this year’s Pride celebrations. But she adds being bisexual is just one part of her identity and hopes everyone’s sexuality is openly accepted in the future.
South Dakota continues to host more Pride events each year. From Aberdeen to Pierre to Watertown, there are activities to acknowledge June as Gay Pride month. Some people who study niche marketing say businesses will follow the trend - focusing more attention on the LGBTQ community in coming years.