It’s the month of June again, which means that it’s time for corporations to roll out a newly colorful logo, slap rainbows on their already-existing merchandise and pretend as if they’ve always cared about the rights of LGBTQIA+ people. This shallow attempt at pandering to the LGBTQIA+ community is commonly referred to as rainbow capitalism.
Users on the social media app Tik Tok have been quick to point out how out of touch pride collections by several corporations are by making videos that highlight their “interesting” collections. It’s painfully obvious in most cases that no queer person was consulted about the design, resulting in hastily-made and mass-produced products.
Not only is this a shameless cash grab, but the rainbow washing of products is the antithesis of the reason that Pride month was created in the first place. Instead of educating people about queer icons like Stormé DeLarverie or Marsha P. Johnson, companies settle for performative allyship.
A common criticism leveled against “ally” companies during Pride month is that they don’t have partnerships with any LGBTQIA+ organizations, or they consistently donate to anti-LGBTQIA+ politicians. On top of that, they sponsor events that use police as security, and are more concerned with how much glitter and alcohol they can douse people in than enacting real change.
“At its core, Pride is intended to disrupt cisheteronormativity; it is a response to police violence and an intentional act of rebellion,” Da’Shaun Harrison wrote for BET.
At its best, performative allyship hides a general lack of action; at its worst, it’s used as an attempt to gloss over truly sinister actions committed against the community. An egregious example this year is Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sharing a #PrideMonth tweet when they have had several cases of trans women being harassed and/or killed in their custody.
Issues like these are prolific on both a national and local level. One of the trans women in ICE custody was Roxsana Hernández, who died in a hospital here in New Mexico. She was refused medical care for her HIV and then had all video footage of her deleted by ICE before an investigation could start, according to Rolling Stone.
On a more positive note, it seems this year people are more willing to hold corporations and government entities accountable. For example, the aforementioned tweet by ICE currently has only about 300 likes but over 3,500 comments, many citing how the organization’s homophobia and transphobia has taken lives. People are no longer fooled into thinking that a rainbow logo during the month of June equals a company being a friend to the LGBTQIA+ community.
Another step in the right direction can be seen from employment giant Indeed, whose #EmpathyAtWork campaign features a new commercial that focuses on using pronouns in the workplace, and stars intersex activist and filmmaker River Gallo. While the casting of a queer person and the campaign itself are positive aspects, it will be important to see if the company will continue the campaign after the month of June.
As with all things, a certain degree of nuance must be taken into account when discussing the issue of rainbow capitalism and the interaction between corporations and the LGBTQIA+ community at large. I recently heard an opinion on this from an older gay man that brought my attention to an aspect I hadn’t considered before.
To him, seeing pride collections in a big-box store blew his mind because when he was a kid, there was no such thing as corporations openly supporting the community. Being gay wasn’t only taboo, it was something that could easily get you killed. He saw society openly supporting the community as a force for good, especially for kids in need of support.
While a pride collection may seem tacky or cringey, it’s important to remember that the collection may allow a LGBTQIA+ youth to feel seen when they’re going through a very confusing and scary time in their lives, especially considering they have a much higher rate of suicide than their cisgender and heterosexual peers, according to The Trevor Project.
This Pride month, remember that being queer isn’t an aesthetic choice and it’s important to continually hold corporations accountable. Pride isn’t about partying, but instead about remembering the history of the queer BIPOC leaders who refused to back down in the face of tyrannical oppression.
Shelby Kleinhans is the multimedia editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BirdsNotReal99