The Magnum Ice Cream pop-up shop in New York City's Meatpacking District celebrated LGBTQ Pride Month by partnering with GLAAD, a nationally recognized LGBTQ organization committed to creating a world where everyone can live the life they love, to host an event featuring the likes of transgender actress Laverne Cox, Naomi Smalls of RuPaul's Drag Race fame, and DJ luminaries of the Misshapes.
But if you looked behind the scenes at the event, you would have found Chris Symmes, the Associate Brand Manager for Magnum US Operations, reveling through it all.
The Pride Bar
While Magnum has a history of working with the LGBTQ community, Chris and the rest of his team really wanted to step up the brand's commitment to the cause. When deciding on an organization with whom to partner for LGBTQ Pride Month, Magnum sought out a relationship with an organization that had a common purpose.
That's where GLAAD came in. "Their mission aligned really well with what we stand for as a brand," Chris says.
In honor of the partnership, Magnum and GLAAD offered a limited-edition Pride Magnum bar, available during the month of June at Magnum New York, which featured a chocolate rainbow flag drizzled on it. The Pride bar is inspired by the Magnum brand’s belief that there’s more pleasure in a diverse world, and its commitment to stand up for everyone’s right to find pleasure in being themselves.
What's more, because the Magnum Pride bar has been as successful as it has, it's something that Unilever hopes to recreate for future Pride events.
From the Beginning
For Chris, this isn't just about selling ice cream or a sinfully delicious treat that promises pleasure for all. There is an intersectionality between the brand, what it stands for, and his own life.
He grew up in Lakeland, Florida and didn't come out until he was 18 years old. To hear him tell it, he wasn't a stranger to hearing some pretty unpublishable words or negative connotations that were directed at LGBTQ individuals.
"That really impacted me during my formative years as an adolescent," he says, "thinking that I was less than, or that I wasn't good enough, or that I wasn't an equal member of society. It affected my confidence, my self esteem, and my overall general well-being. "
“I wasn’t as happy as I could have been growing up. I knew at an early age that I was gay, but I harbored that secret for a very long time which negatively impacted my relationships with others and myself.”
This is how pleasure ties into it for Chris—it's hard to experience enjoyment in your everyday when you have that kind of weight holding you down.
“It’s impossible to be your best self if you’re not your authentic self,” he says. Once he was able to fully accept himself, Chris admits that he began to flourish—he became more trusting and open and, as a result, his relationships with others, including his own self, deepened and became much stronger.
Pleasure for All
These days, a lot is made of purpose on the corporate level, but what Chris admires most about Unilever is that the company is not only talking the talk, but walking the walk as well.
He believes that brands have a voice and that businesses should contribute a positive impact to society. "For me this is Unilever laying the building blocks to really making that a reality," he says.
Recently, with Unilever's encouragement, Chris attended a Network and Affinity Leadership Congress (NALC) where he got to meet with other LGBTQ folks from all over the country. While there he reflected upon his time working for Unilever in New York and he realized that, far away from his Florida upbringing, he was living in a bubble. Listening to others talk about their less than desirable experiences about being out in the workplace, he realized that there was still a lot of work that needs to be done.
And he admires that Unilever sees itself as having a clearly defined role to play in all of this.
"Any time you have a major corporation or a large brand taking a stand," Chris says, "it's chipping away at any sort of marginalization or discrimination that might still be occurring throughout the rest of the world."
The very same derision that was directed towards himself and other members of the LGBTQ community when he was younger, when he wasn't able to be fully out, those very same things, he says, are still going on today.
“Occassions like this,” Chris explains about the Magnum Pride event, “partnerships like this with GLAAD and working with celebrity talent and transgendered advocates like Laverne Cox promote broader acceptance and inclusion while advocating to those that are vulnerable that it’s okay to be true to yourself.”
But even outside of organizations and brands, it comes down to people like Chris Symmes who can really inspire meaningful change—employees who can take a stand against the same forces that kept Chris from being who he was for so long.