It’s Pride Month next week, which means many brands are unrolling a colorful new look – changing their logos and websites, launching rainbow-colored gear, and even flaunting colorful marketing campaigns on social media and in-store. Some use this opportunity to raise funds for LGBTQIA+ causes or feature LGBTQIA+ talent in advertising campaigns. This is rainbow-washing: “the practice of adding rainbow colors and/or imagery to advertising, apparel, accessories, landmarks, etc. to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ equality (and earn consumer credibility) — but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result” (Medium).
This tactic certainly isn’t new. Green-washing is a similarly shallow commitment to sustainability, for example. But it’s difficult to watch in a time when the LGBTQIA+ community is experiencing unprecedented levels of violence and discrimination and just two years after a “racial reckoning” where brands feigned support for equity and inclusion.
• Celebrate Pride this month by donating to a mutual aid network where you live that supports the LGBTQIA+ community. Here’s a list to help you get started.
• Tweet these corporations and tell them to stop funding anti-LGBTQ extremists, using the resources provided by #KeepYourPride.
From a marketing perspective, it makes no sense that the global LGBTQIA+ community, with a combined $3.7 trillion in purchasing power, is only thought of for one month of the year (Entrepreneur). Although historically overlooked in consumer data and analytics, the LGBTQIA+ community was recently included in Nielsen rating statistics (NYTimes). Although there’s still much to be done to have the community fully represented in data (looking at you, U.S. Census), there’s no excuse for brands to ignore the LGBTQIA+ community the rest of the year while only providing rainbows as acknowledgment in June. It seems like some corporations think these superficial appeals to the LGBTQIA+ community will allow them to tap into this market without alienating the rest of their consumer base – particularly the homophobic ones that might cut ties.
What’s more sinister is that many of the same brands fail to actually support the LGBTQIA+ community. They are actively harming them through capitalistic business practices and discriminatory company policies in many cases. Some companies that will release rainbow-washed products, like Coca-Cola, have also invested in lawmakers that have instated anti-LGBTQ+ legislation this past year (Corporate Accountability Action). Many more have stayed silent as the LGBTQIA+ community experiences a series of attacks, most recently, the rise of anti-trans legislation passing in states across the country.
Marketplace brands like Amazon support anti-LGBT organizations on their platforms (The Hill). Google announces its support for Pride but allows homophobic harassment to be monetized on YouTube, which it owns (New Now Next). Employees can be constantly misgendered at companies outwardly touting their status as “inclusive workplaces” (Archer).
Rainbow-washing allows 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 and call it allyship.
Rainbow-washing allows 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 and call it allyship.”
Justice Namaste, Social Media Coordinator, via Wired
Researchers at The Trevor Project found that 35% of LGBTQIA+ youth experience discrimination at work. Transgender and nonbinary youth reported nearly twice as much discrimination, and LGBTQIA+ youth of color were also more likely to experience discrimination (Trevor Project).
And it goes beyond just supporting causes that seem directly related to the LGBTQIA+ community. Remember that all of the greatest social issues of our time, from police brutality to the economy and the environmental crisis, all disproportionately impact LGBTQIA+ people, especially those of color. When corporations fail to hold themselves accountable for addressing these issues, they choose to ignore the needs of those most vulnerable. And that falls far from allyship.
Pride wasn’t an event created to wear colorful clothing. It began as a riot in response to police brutality and is commemorated by continued protests and demonstrations (them). This liberatory movement, led by the Black and Brown LGBTQIA+ community, has fought and will continue to fight for justice. It deserves to be honored through how organizations operate and not just what they sell. As YK Hong said on Instagram, “Pride is not simply a celebration. It is also a call to action.”
Rainbow-washing is another example of how institutions, organizations, and people reinforce inequitable systems even while making equitable statements.
KEY TAKEAWAYS • Rainbow-washing is the practice of adding rainbow colors and/or imagery to advertising, apparel, accessories, landmarks, etc., to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ equality (and earn consumer credibility) — but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result” (Medium).
• Many corporations practice rainbow-washing while actively causing harm to the LGBTQIA+ community.
• To truly celebrate Pride, corporations must commit to addressing the disparities that disproportionately impact the LGBTQIA+ community and demonstrate a willingness to dismantle the norms