Since it is June, Pride Month is currently being celebrated, and various Pride celebrations, we see rainbows everywhere: from local drugstores to major chains, to banks and other financial institutions. Popular media companies’ websites will be full of #Pride to declare their support. Large corporations taking advantage of social causes shouldn’t be surprising, we are surrounded by it: other examples are breast cancer research , feminism, and environmental causes like climate change. Corporate profiteering from social causes is everywhere.
But is this type of corporate takeover of queer issues problematic? It’s important that closeted LGBTQ+ teens feel seen and supported. Seeing their pride flag on merchandise helps with awareness, inclusion and representation. When you see rainbow-washed capitalism on clothing with words like peace and love it appears light-hearted and fun. It helps in spreading awareness and it’s important that diverse gender identities are becoming more seen. Some companies even have a charity lined up receiving a good cut of the profits. That must be good, right? But, if we take a closer look, maybe not.
First, there is the question of ‘why now’? Companies may be investing a lot of money now to promote awareness of something that finally is becoming more socially accepted, but where were they before? The queer community has been discriminated against, targetted, slandered and marginalized for centuries. Up until 30 years ago, homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder.
Where were these companies’ gestures of support and inclusion when it may have been financially risky, or more politically helpful? It’s important to take a critical look at the actions of corporations purporting to support LGBTQ+ equality and consider what else might be motivating their actions. Is it about anything more than financial profit?
Pride has long had a radical edge. The gay rights movement was sparked when a black trans woman, Marsha P. Johnson threw the first brick that started the Stonewall riots. It started as a fight for equality and inclusion and against systematic oppression and discrimination. Celebrating corporations that put a price on pride to appeal to a rainbow aesthetic runs the risk of whitewashing (or rainbow washing) that history. Would any of these corporations, then or now, take to the streets in support of anything that wasn’t already widely accepted?
Second, when all a company does is use Pride Month to make merch and advertise, they should expect criticism about why they aren’t doing more. What are their hiring practices? What benefits do they provide their employees with for example transgender and non-binary employees who often face inconsistencies in their healthcare benifits and face wage gaps compared to cisgender employees? What is their larger social engagement?
In 2018, Adidas had a special section of its website called “Pride Pack”, selling rainbow merchandise to honour Pride Month. At the very same time, it was a major sponsor for that year’s World Cup, which took place in Russia, a country with anti-LGBTQ laws that made it unsafe for fans and athletes.
Numerous corporations in the United States, including AT&T who donated $1.1 million to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians and Home Depot who donated $837K , slap rainbows on their products during pride, only to donate millions of dollars to the opposite cause. Alcohol companies like Jack Daniels and Bud Light tout their support for pride while ignoring the higher rates of substance abuse among the LGBTQ community. None of these corporations are providing consistent or effective support to the queer community, despite their enthusiastic and overbearing rainbow branding.
Capitalism taking advantage of Pride month means many things, but most disturbingly it means taking over the underlying history of the Pride movement, making it more cotton candy and less about understanding the brutal costly protests that moved us forward, and the very real ongoing struggle for human rights.
Seeing the rainbow pride flag means a lot to many people: at its best, it holds power and acceptance. Seeing it plastered on a bottle of Listerine or shampoo being sold at your local grocery store belittles it. It makes it nothing more than the corporations’ attempt to look like an ally now that it is politically safe to do so while making millions off of products and while not providing any systemic or effective support.
This is nothing more than paying lip service to equality while not doing anything to continue the ongoing battle for real social change.
Image credits: flickr