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Rainbow Washing

What It Is and How to Avoid

Allyship will always feel like an imperfect pursuit because, at our core, we are all human. And while being human means that we will inevitably make mistakes, it also means that, at our core, we carry a sense of humanity. Many of our Brains on Fire values reflect our basic human values; we take care of each other, we lead with empathy, we do together, we give a damn. They serve as reminders that everything we do should ladder up to them. We particularly keep them in mind when we reflect on how to approach months that celebrate groups that have faced adversity and discrimination. While we may not always get it right, we work hard to improve our efforts each year and to lead with empathy.

Every year rainbow washing seems to have reached its height, and yet each year our feeds become more inundated with Pride flags, merch and rainbow logos on June 1st for Pride Month. What has come to be known as “rainbow washing” is when a business shows public support for the LGBTQ+ community, but engages in practices that are detrimental to any members of the community behind closed doors. It can feel like a minefield for those wanting to avoid rainbow washing and to instead make a true impact, but approaching with a willingness to learn is the exact right place to start. Our team put together a guideline of best practices when planning for Pride Month. This by no means is a fully comprehensive list and we invite you to share some of the practices you and your organization invest in.

Consistent Contributions

Put Your Money Where Your Post Is

The second half of the definition of rainbow washing points to companies that engage in “detrimental” practices behind closed doors, but we would argue that not engaging at all can be considered harmful. Like most communities, there are many ways to support the LGBTQ+ community. We’ve pulled together a starting point below:

  • Donate to organizations that support the LGBTQ+ community locally and/or nationally throughout the year, rather than a one-time donation in June. This is something our own team has been reflecting on this year, with plans to fully implement in 2023.
  • It’s ideal if this donation is budgeted for rather than as a donation of profits from a Pride Month collab.
  • Do your homework before donating. Confirm you are not making contributions to any organizations, candidates or programs that actively hurt the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Create an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace. This one is a no-brainer to us and in no way limited to Pride or any other affiliate Month. Invest time in creating a workplace culture where all members of the community are welcomed, valued, properly compensated and promoted within the company
  • We can’t say this one enough. When partnering for collabs, always ensure that the creator is properly compensated and as many marketing dollars go towards promoting that campaign as any other. It’s best if these collaborations happen throughout the year rather than June 1st through 30th.

Early Is On Time

And on time is late.

Start planning your Pride Month campaign for 2023 now. Then, take elements of your plan, such as influencer campaigns, and include them throughout your annual plan. Using campaigns throughout the year as opportunities to include LGBTQ+ creators and support the community at large is more impactful than one month because it provides consistent monetary support and visibility.


Timing, Payment and Collaboration

If you’ve followed the plan above, timing shouldn’t be an issue. By the time June 2023 is here, you will have a group of influencers who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community that you’ve been working with throughout the year to create a trusting partnership. If their content and messaging fits within your Pride Month campaign, reach out to them early to give them enough time to create the content.

When annual budget conversations begin, be sure to earmark portions of the budget to appropriately compensate any creators you will partner with based on their rates and what you’ve seen in the market. If you notice that they are underpriced based on the market, speak up and offer to pay them the going rate.

After the creators have been selected, creating collaborative content is of utmost importance. Trust them to lead in creating content that resonates and is authentic to who they are. No one person can create content that reflects an entire community. Instead, trust that they have garnered the following they have for a reason and, as long as it’s in line with your brand values, allow them to lead the process. Pattiegonia’s partnership with North Face is a great example of the brand stepping out of the way. The results feel authentic, fun and fresh.

Now What?

Consistency, Monetary Support, Authenticity

The above plan will help you improve your participation in Pride Month in an impactful way. Always remember that your plan should include consistency, monetary support and authenticity. Even teams of one can find success with those three guidemarkers. And, finally, use this as a benchmark for any “month” that celebrates a particular group because the more we can do to break out of the month mentality, the better our support will be long term. We’re all human and working towards becoming better versions of our previous selves and better supporters of each other. The best time to start is now and the best place to start is exactly where you are.



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Emily Neal

Emily Neal

Senior Account Executive at Brains on Fire