As Pride Month 2023 comes to a close, many are reflecting on the true intentions behind a celebration that has become (in the United States, at least) largely mainstream. Despite that the Pride movement and what it has become is a result of black transgender women saying “no more” to the constant bigotry their community experienced and fighting with everything they had to advance us forward, many corporations have decided to exploit Pride month via advertisements and empty promises on social media without actually creating the change we continue to desperately call for. In fact, the prevalence of this phenomenon has reached a point to which it has earned its own name: Rainbow Capitalism.
“Rainbow Capitalism,” also known as “pink washing” or “pink capitalism,” is a term used to describe corporations’ exploitation of Pride Month and the LGBTQ community. This typically is to garner more profit, and not to support queer folks in any capacity. Da’Shaun Harrison–a queer activist and abolitionist from Atlanta–writes that “at its core, Pride is intended to disrupt cisheteronormativity” and the social norms established to deliberately exclude queer and trans people for decades. Thus, corporations as well as politicians are capitalizing off of the oppression they create in an attempt to look “woke” while doing almost nothing to advance queer rights or advocacy. And the hate crimes and anti-trans legislation rampant this past Pride raise questions of who these rainbow-washed corporate advertisements are helping, if anyone.
Common instances of Rainbow Capitalism today include a rainbow social media logo or pride-themed merchandise that doesn’t contribute any of its funds to LGBTQ charities, such as the highly controversial pride collection Target released this year. Even if the person or charity does promise to make a seemingly hearty donation to an LGBTQ organization, it is important to keep in mind that the purchasing power of the community as a global whole is 3.7 trillion dollars. Relatively speaking, giving away $200,000 or so is a miniscule price compared to the billions of dollars said corporation is taking in. This is not allyship–no change is being made to the system when corporate entities are only conforming to the status quo by demonstrating solidarity without any additional action, or throwing away pocket change while hiding behind a rainbow flag.
This leads to the question of what, if anything, is the “correct” thing to do to support the LGBTQ community during both Pride Month and year round. Karen Tongson, a professor of gender & sexuality studies at the University of Southern California, says in an article featured on PBS that instead of demonstrating support for a mainstream, “safe” queer rights debate such as marriage equality, corporations, politicians, and allies must commit to legislative, societal change in order to benefit every member of the LGBTQ community–espcially LGBTQ people of color, unhoused people, trans people, and other minorities within the community that experience disproportionate amounts of violence and bigotry. This change–for example, protesting against anti-trans legislation passing through numerous state legislatures at this very moment, or calling/emailing your local representative to ensure they are protecting LGBTQ youth in every level of government–makes much more of a lasting impact compared to simply advertising a cleaning product with a sapphic couple for a week in June.
Essentially, making Pride more about consumerism than activism erases queer oppression and ignores continued violence against the community, disregarding the true legacy of Stonewall and the fight that followed. Pride began as a riot, an intentional dismissal of the current system and a dare to dream for something better, and this is extremely important to keep in mind if you are a corporation who plans to change your Instagram logo to a rainbow for 30 days and refuse to challenge the very system you are upholding.