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Queer Liberation Cannot be Commodified

Rainbow washing is selling LGBTQ+ rights

June marks the historical, colourful, and magical month of pride. Subsequently, it’s also the time that rainbows seem to pop up at every single turn, from companies that appear desperate to capitalise on the pride movement.

The strategic marketing by large brands, to commodify pride month has been dubbed “rainbow washing”, and is proving to be more damaging than helpful to the entire movement.

Pride month is held in June to commemorate the Stonewall riots — a pivotal moment in the liberation of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a month that helps vocalise role models, build a community, and also makes a statement about the contributions of the LGBTQ+ population and showcases the struggles in the past, present, and future.

Pride month both honours the figures in the past who helped push for queer liberation, as well as recognising the impact of the LGBTQ+ community today, helping to build an alliance for those who feel alone and misunderstood.

While one argument may be able to point towards brands acknowledging and celebrating pride month as an overall positive, the performative marketing ploy of inclusivity and acceptance can stifle progress.

Does performative rebranding help the pride movement?

Performative activism isn’t exclusively bad, it’s also not an issue that can be generalised. It holds the idea that everything related to social media or marketing is an act or substanceless, which isn’t always the case.

Performative activism can be accessible and, in some cases, empowering. Think, a tweet from a friend, or an emotional advert, these alone are not necessarily caveats.

The issue with performative activism arises when it replaces any kind of tangible action. It’s a form of moral licensing, which allows individuals, and even more worryingly, big corporations to negate any responsibility.

Performative activism becomes damaging when it is nothing more than a commodifiable woke-filler.

Rainbow washing, in this regard, is therefore damaging. Companies believe that changing their logo to a pride flag compensates for actual progress. Businesses should not be profiting off their surface-level support for a marginalised community while doing nothing else to help their liberation.

Examples of rainbow washing

Rainbow washing at its most innocent is diet activism, which truthfully most companies are guilty of. At its worst, it’s an attempt to conceal anti-LGBTQ+ behaviours. Neither is ideal, but the latter is a deliberate attempt to cover up actual harm, that they are doing, to LGBTQ+ people.

Take Walmart, Amazon, and McDonald’s, who have all posted about Pride on their social media pages, despite donating a collective $1million to lawmakers who voted against the Equality Act.

Multinational companies, quite notably, failed to update their logos from pride months in countries where LGBTQ+ people face the most oppression.

For instance, Mercedes-Benz and BMW failed to put a pride logo on their Middle Eastern social media accounts. Nestle only displayed a rainbow logo on its U.S Twitter page, and Sephora neglected to make a pride post on their Middle Eastern profiles.

It’s safe to say, when a corporation virtue signals, scepticism isn’t only understandable but it’s justified. Seeing the pride flag may make you feel that it is safe to spend your money there, without considering where they are spending that money. For instance, donating to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians.

You can use sites such as Progressive Shopper to see information about the company’s political leanings, their history on rainbow washing, and any other nefarious information about them. For example, Urban Outfitters’ political leanings led to them donating tens of thousands to Rick Santorum, a Republican candidate who compared same-sex marriage to 9/11.

Pride isn’t just in June

While having a symbolic month of celebration is amazing — showcasing a shift in attitudes and morals through the decades, pride doesn’t just exist in June.

As consumers, we are confined to certain capitalistic chains — the phrase “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” rings true, we can make certain changes to the way we spend our money, though.

Shopping at small LGBTQ+ businesses, donating to legit LGBTQ+ causes and non-profits, and supporting candidates who are voting for the liberation of queer people is the support that we can give all year long.

Don’t buy pride merch from corporations that donate to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians, amplify voices, speak up about injustices, and defend your friends.

Please be aware that around 70 countries still criminalise homosexual activity and 12 counties have the death penalty for those participating in homosexual acts.

The liberation of queer people is not a reality here or overseas. Capitalistic “progress” is nothing but a theory if the systems of oppression, injustice, and inequality still exist.




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Katie Anderton

Katie Anderton

Feminist, anti-capitalist columnist and journalist.

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