In recent years the inclusion of rainbows, sayings such as “love is love”, and other pride related content have made their way in many big companies. These inclusions are not rooted in as pure intent as the company makes it out to be, they are a capitalist PR strategy that has a name, Pink Capitalism/pinkwashing.
Pink Capitalism is the incorporation of the LGBT+ movement for capitalization and pinkwashing is making products or the image of a company appear gay-friendly to showcase progressiveness and tolerance of the company to get LGBT+ consumers. Many people, including members of the LGBT+ community, have taken this inclusion as a sign of progress and acceptance; rainbows and love, and all is well, right?
That is not the case at all. So-called “pro-gay” companies like Facebook, BurgerKing, Uber, Target etc. who only go as far as rainbow filters, wrappers, and t-shirts. These companies, however, don’t actually try to understand, research, or fight to end the oppression of the LGBT+ community are not helping the queer liberation movement. The only difference between the pro-gay and anti-gay companies is that one is vocal about the oppression they inflict. At the end of the day many seemingly queer-friendly companies take part in dialing down the hardship and survival aspect of being a member of the LGBT+ by splattering the colors of the rainbow when monetarily beneficial to them.
Furthermore, not only do companies economically exploit the LGBT+ community’s self-expression through their production of pinkwashed items, but the action of pinkwashing by companies is hijacking the gay movement. They that paint sexuality as something that exists in a vacuum, disregarding other factors such as class, gender, race, etc. This creates a false sense of security and claims that equality is here through the incorporation of rainbow wrappers.
One out of the plethora of specific examples proving the artificial nature of the “support” from these companies is Urban Outfitters. Urban Outfitters has more than a couple problematic streaks including a CEO that has donated to Rick Santorum, a crudely homophobic politician, and selling a greeting card that used a transphobic slur. This type of fraudulent support is most evident during the approaching pride month of June. Not only do companies slap rainbows on their logos and call it a day, but a report done by Project Queer shows that the presence of corporations in Chicago’s Pride event in 2015 surpassed ones of LGBT+ individuals. This may come across as progress and constructive action to some, but considering the business motive of appearing friendly to our changing society with no goals of queer liberation delegitimizes the support. It’s control, marketing manipulation, and pink capitalism.
Another negative aspect of this manipulative inclusion is the fact that it is institutionally used to silence the LGBT+ community from questioning the status quo. Furthering this agenda of institutional discrimination are those that are homophobic and misinformed, who negate queer people’s claim of discrimination and homophobia by basically saying ‘okay, but like how can homophobia exist when rainbow Doritos exists?’
So what is there to be done if so many organizations are a part of this calculation? Starting with the companies, they should actually learn about the LGBT+ community beyond the rainbow. Hiring queer people, especially queer POC, transgender and disabled individuals, and ultimately deriving away from capitalistic approaches that create inequality the companies project to oppose would show fully-realized allyship. And as for members of the LGBT+ community, while a store filled with rainbows and “love” may feel safe, be cautious of who and what is behind the “support and acceptance”. This capitalism is currently everywhere, and unlike vocally homophobic companies, pinkwashed companies are silently anti-you in a systematic and unseen way. The impact of this oppression is so subliminal that it can happen before you even realize.
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