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Rainbow-Washing: Happy [Corporate] Pride!

What is Rainbow-Washing?

Rainbow-washing is “The act of using or adding rainbow colors and/or imagery to advertising, apparel, accessories, landmarks, et cetera, in order to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ equality (and earn consumer credibility)--but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result. (Akin to "green-washing" with environmental issues and "pink-washing" with breast cancer.)”, as defined by Urban Dictionary. In other words, it is an opportunistic cash grab witnessed every June as brands roll out rainbow themed products and logos as a marketing strategy to capitalize off of Pride Month.

Justice Audre acknowledged rainbow-washing as allowing “people, governments, and corporations that don’t do tangible work to support LGBTQ+ communities at any other time during the year to slap a rainbow on top of something in the month of June.”

What does Rainbow-Washing look like?

The most common instances of corporations monetizing off of pride month are when they launch brief Pride initiatives, change their social media campaigns to being pro queer, use members of the queer community as content props, have elaborate corporate groups and staffs participating in parades, change their logos for the month of June.

For example, Amazon’s Alexa tells you Pride facts, Listerine has a “Pride mouthwash”, Burger King has a “Proud Whopper”, Nike has a “Be True” collection, Bubbly has “Pride sparkling water”, Dr. Martens have “Pride boots”, Apple launched a “Pride Edition Apple Watch wristband” and Abercrombie & Fitch has a Pride Collection and Pride cologne to go with it.

While the onslaughts of colorful rainbow themed T-shirts, badges, shoes and proud declarations of “Love is Love” are all pleasing and supportive on the surface level, a little digging proves that behind the shiny pro queer banners, very few brands actually put their money where their mouth is. More often than not, the queer talents involved in these advertisements are underpaid and the local queer organizations and non-profits they claim to support have no receipts to show as proof. Many brands don’t actually donate to LGBTQ+ causes and some even contribute to anti-LGBTQ+ organizations or show their support for homophobic public figures; all the while selling rainbow flags.

Aren’t more Queer themed products better for the Queer community?

While it is important to recognize and appreciate every single act of solidarity, it is also important to note that many, if not most, brands only show this supposed support during the month of June, and in fact actively contribute to anti-LGBTQ+ ventures the rest of the year. In doing so, they are not only dismissing years of bigotry and oppression, they are actually benefiting off of it, by slapping a rainbow over their logo and declaring themselves as “allies”.

“Pride Month shouldn’t be synonymous with consumerism. We have too many things; use too much water; leave too many lights on; drain too much of our planet’s dwindling resources.”

In the last decade more and more companies have noticed the advantages of appealing to the queer community, as the so called “pink money” they offer have a combined buying power of 3.7 trillion dollars, according to a 2019 FORBES report. And this actually isn’t even a very new marketing strategy. A BBC article dating back to July 1998, titled “Business: The Economy-The Pink Pound” [referenced below], stated that even ‘big names like American Express, American Airlines Virgin Atlantic and Apple Computers have recognized the sectors spending. Citroen cars decided to sponsor the Manchester Gay and Lesbian mardis-gras…..in choosing to market to the homosexual community, companies like Bass see it as no more than “further profit for a plc” ‘

Why is Rainbow-Washing harmful for the Queer Community?

Pride month exists to celebrate and amplify queer voices, culture and rights. It commemorates the Stonewall riots of 1969, when the police raided the Stonewall Inn bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village and stands for the dignity and equality of the LGBTQ+ community. When companies commodify the Pride flag, a symbol of the Queer community’s resilience against years of oppression, and monetize on the Queer demographic they water down and pander the whole purpose of Pride. June simply becomes a month of celebrity appearances, colourful parades and brand sponsorships, with a bright shiny rainbow undertone.

This effectively trivializes years of oppression and refuses to acknowledge the amount of hate crimes against the queer community that still persist throughout the world; while conveniently filling the pockets of multi-billion-dollar companies.

Pro Queer” brands with skeletons in their closets

Let’s analyze a few such “Allies”. Popular brand names like Verizon, Pfizer and Home Depot have a history of donating to anti-gay ventures and supporting anti trans legislations. And yet, they do not shy away from monetizing on Pride Month by coloring their logos a bright rainbow. FORBES noted that “nine of the biggest, most LGBTQ supportive corporation in America gave about 1 million or more to each anti-gay politicians in the last election cycle”.

Take a look at some such donations-

1. AT&T donated $2,755,000 to 193 anti-gay politicians.

2. UPS donated $2,366,122 to 159 anti-gay politicians.

3. Comcast donated $2,116,500 to 154 anti-gay politicians.

4. Home Depot donated $1,825,500 to 111 anti-gay politicians.

5. General Electric donated $1,380,500 to 97 anti-gay politicians.

6. FedEx donated $1,261,500 to 75 anti-gay politicians.

7. UBS donated $1,094,750 to 72 anti-gay politicians.

8. Verizon donated $1,022,803 to 74 anti-gay politicians.

9. Pfizer donated $959,263 to 52 anti-gay politicians.

According to Popular Information and Progressive Shopper, all of these donations give a grand total of $14,891,413 dollars. That is, $14,891,413 dollars donated to take queer rights away and harm the queer community, to vote in anti-gay members to deny healthcare to transgender troops, all the while claiming to be LGBTQ+ allies, with their pretty logos and supportive slogans.

All of the above-mentioned brands have participated in performative Pride support, by coloring their logos in the colors of the pride flag or lining their shelves with pro queer merchandise. None of them actually support or sponsor any legislation that is pro queer or advocated for LGBTQ safety and security.

Proper Brand Ally ship

A proper Ally, an ally that actually promotes the welfare of the queer community, acknowledges the history and significance of Pride and actively supports the community throughout, not just for a marketing minute. Pretty slogans of “Love is Love” and “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!” are all well and good, but actually donating to queer causes and addressing issues that effect the their queer consumers are better ways of being an “ally”.

For example. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire released a YouTube series called “DRAG QUEEN MUKBANG” [link below] that features drag stars addressing the financial hardships that the drag community faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, they have also partnered with GLAAD, an American non-governmental media monitoring organization, founded as a protest against defamatory coverage of LGBT people [link below]. They also specifically linked the organizations that each of the hosts are involved in.

Another good example is Reebok’s “All Types of Love” campaign. While featuring queer activists and influencers as part of their advertisement campaigns, they have also donated 75 thousand dollars to the “It Gets Better” project.

While it isn’t a crime for a brand to use Pride month as a tool for promoting their pro queer products, customers find their support much more genuine when brands support and acknowledge the community all year round, and make efforts towards handing the proverbial microphone over.

Companies like Salesforce, who announced boycotts of Indiana after its governor passed anti-LGBT legislation into law; or IBM, PayPal and Google who boycotted North Carolina in 2016 after it passed anti trans legislation, prove an excellent example of supportive ally ship and genuine concern of the queer community.

How can I, as a consumer, be cautious of such performative allies?

If a company claims to be an Ally, they will likely promise to donate a percentage of product sales to a queer organization or non-profit. A little digital digging will reveal just how much of the profit they made off of Pride Month is actually being contributed towards the betterment of the queer community. The market average currently sits around a 7 percent. Glassdoor [link below] is a website that allows you to see if a company pays an equal salary and treatment to its queer employees. Go through that company’s reviews and pay special attention to key words like “queer”, “gay”, “LGBTQ+” etc. Read up on that brand’s history and if it has every contributed to anti-queer politicians or ventures.

As a queer consumer, or even an honest ally, it is important that your money does not go to a company that will only pocket the profits and still continue actively harming queer rights. Monetizing from Pride month can serve to water down the significance of Pride, and intentionally or unintentionally hurt the very community it aims to support. Remember, performative support and rainbow flags aren’t always a sign of ally ship. Sometimes, it is just a sign of a smart marketing strategy.


Sources and Links -

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/142998.stm [BBC ARTICLE]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZslydBDlYA [DRAG QUEEN MUKBANG]

https://www.glaad.org/ [GLAAD OFFICIAL SITE]

https://www.glassdoor.co.in/index.htm?countryRedirect=true [GLASSDOOR]