What's the Deal with the "I Live Proud" Meme?

Happy Pride! Have you been seeing more of Adam Lambert's mascara-clad eyes around the Internet lately? That's because AT&T is harnessing the Internet's power for good (yep, it is possible), using memes to bring attention to a fantastic cause. Through user-submitted "I Live Proud" memes, the initiative hopes to raise awareness and self-respect for and in the LGBT community.

Lambert and AT&T have long strived to promote positivity and practice acceptance over shame — the Live Proud campaign is their latest attempt to deliver that message to as many people as possible. Here's the birth cycle of the Live Proud meme, and what it's doing to encourage acceptance in all communities.

It Wasn't Always All Rainbows

The "live proud" sentiment can be traced back to the Pride movement, which has always advocated for dignity. It promotes getting down with your gay self and celebrating self-respect over shame. It differs from other movements in a key way: instead of advocating for fitting in, Pride promotes literally waving that rainbow flag for all to see. We're here, we're queer, so what?

It started in the summer of '69, when gay activists sealed up police officers inside the Stonewall Inn using a parking meter. The first Gay Pride parade was actually a march through the streets of New York in response to the unfair treatment of gay people. Similar marches took place around the globe in the following year, from Boston to Paris to West Berlin.

While we await national legislation that'll extend all necessary and equitable rights to the LGBT community (ahem, marriage), the movement has reached a number of milestones since its inception: 19 states have legalized same-sex marriage (welcome PA!), the Senate voted to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Presidents Clinton and Obama have declared June Pride Month, and there are now marches the world over. While Pride isn't as political as it once was, the sentiment behind it has remained: no judging.

But Why AT&T?

Back in the dark days before WiFi and same-sex marriage legislation, AT&T became the first corporation to adopt nondiscriminatory practices, providing equal opportunity for lesbian and gay people in 1975. That was the same year Elaine Noble became the first openly lesbian person to be elected to state legislature. Coincidence? Probably. It was still a pretty fabulous year.

Fast-forward to 1987, when LEAGUE at AT&T was founded. The first employee resource group for LGBT workers in corporate America, LEAGUE expanded awareness for queer rights, ensuring that AT&T remain a company that accepts and even champions diversity in the workplace. And its activism continues today — it was the first major corporation to condemn Russia's terrifying anti-gay laws. They also provide transgender-inclusive health benefits and health insurance for domestic partners. All these efforts help members of the AT&T community make their voices heard without the threat of backlash in the workplace. To bolster its efforts and spread the message to the outside world, the company created the "I Live Proud" meme.

How Adam Lambert Became the Beautiful Face of Living Proud

Adam Lambert has proven to be more than just an eyeliner aficionado with sleek dance moves and a gravity-defying pompadour. He's also made a name for himself through some good old-fashioned queer activism. Aside from being the first openly gay singer to top the Billboard chart, he's been a big advocate for the community in general.

"I want to encourage LGBT youth to live proud and let their voice be heard," Lambert explained in a company press release. "Whether it's changing a status on Facebook or kissing in public, live free." Preach. Every voice deserves to be heard, even when it's not as intrinsically dewy and sexual as his. On why a meme was the most effective carrier of this message, Lambert explains on AT&T's company blog that "too many LGBT individuals don't feel they have a voice, and this program gives them one."

How do you live proud? Submit your own meme in honor of Pride Week, and share them on Facebook or Twitter. Five participants will win an invitation to a meet-and-greet with Adam Lambert himself at a private event in New York City. Of those fans, one grand prize winner will be chosen to get some one-on-one time with him before the event.

No purchase nec. Open to US res, age maj. Ends 8/10/14. Void where prohibited. Details and rules at att.com/liveproud.

Nandita Raghuram is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn.

This post is a sponsored collaboration between AT&T and Studio@Gawker.