We Need To Talk About Rainbow Capitalism

Every year, during Pride Month, more and more companies try to show their support to the LGBTQ+ community by rebranding their logo to the colours of the rainbow, or by selling items smacked with a big rainbow. This practice is called “rainbow-washing”, but you can also find it under the name “pinkwashing”. The term was coined to describe the act of using rainbow colours or imagery for clothes, accessories, or advertising, in order to indicate the company’s solidarity with progressive values. This marketing practice is not always paired with actual action for equality, though.

Pride Rainbow

How does this marketing ideology translate into reality ?

The phrase “rainbow-washing” was first used by LGBTQ+ activists to denounce those practices as hypocritical, similarly to “greenwashing” for environmental matters. They denounce the fact that corporations and organisations show off their progressive rainbow logo in June, while not actually contributing to the fight for equal rights. 

There is however a silver lining: it creates more representation, which is sometimes a necessary thing for young queer folks especially. This allows them to feel more accepted and visible in society, encouraging them to express themselves and celebrate proudly. 

Besides, some companies actually donate 100% of the profit from their pride collection to LGBTQ+ charities. For example, in 2020, the company Doritos issued a limited-edition bag of rainbow chips, in partnership with the It Gets Better Project. This rainbow bag was only available to people who donated $10 to the project, which provides support to LGBT youth. When it comes with a concrete action for equality, rainbow marketing can have a positive impact on society.

Why is the LGBTQ+ community critical of this practice ?

According to the non-profit organisation Diversify Our Narrative, which fights for racial justice and equal rights in general, “the commercialization of Pride undermines and desensitizes the historical significance and story of Pride itself”. Indeed, the first pride was a riot led by Marsha P. Johnson in Stonewall. Nowadays, Pride seems more like a party than a true way to fight for LGBTQ rights. Selling pride “merch” seems insensitive and tone-deaf, because it does not really help the cause. It is seen as misleading and encourages queer people to buy things from companies that may support anti-lgbt legislation. The issue is that the corporations instrumentalize progressive values in order to appeal to gay-friendliness, and to earn credibility and trust from progressive consumers. Queer activists argue that this is highly unethical, because consumers should be aware of where their money is going and which cause it is serving. 

Most companies who partake in this marketing strategy don’t actively try to research the issue or help the community. Many of them only go as far as plastering a rainbow to their windows in june. Without actually trying to understand the fight, they appropriate its symbol for commercial purposes. Sometimes, they even defend anti-LGBT laws, which serves as a reminder that equal rights shouldn’t be taken for granted. The state of Florida just voted the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, forbidding discussions about LGBTQ matters in schools…

An example is the Coca Cola Company. It shows public support to the LGBTQ+ community through advertising and supporting parades. Despite this fact, the Corporate Accountability Action actually found that the company and its affiliations donated approximately $9,550 to 23 anti-LGBT legislators (in the US). 

Moreover, Diversify Our Narrative (DON) points out that the representation  shown off during the month of June is not as inclusive as it looks, because it is created by non-LGBT people most of the time. It also perpetuates a white and cisgender narrative, excluding other parts of the community. The DON organisation warns against buying Pride merch: “While it’s rightly an important time of celebration and joy, the socially performative and monetary gains these brands intend to make out of pride, while many times still supporting anti-LGBTQ+ agendas, make them unworthy of your dollars or support”.

While rainbow capitalism is a recurring topic of discussion in queer spaces, the mainstream media still has not talked about it much. 

As an alternative to shopping pride related products, without giving out money to contradictory companies, consumers can look into small businesses owned by queer people.

Rosanna Airiau

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Images :

  • Couverture : ©Image of queer activists at LGBT Pride in Dublin, Ireland, Aloyisius, 4 July 2016, Wikicommons, CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Article : ©Pride Rainbow, ARTcombobulated, uploaded on January 26, 2022, 11:40 pm, OpenClipart, CC

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