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What is Rainbow Capitalism and Why is it Harmful?

Rainbow capitalism is when corporations attempt to capitalize off Pride without actually supporting the queer community.

Now that we’re getting into Pride month, it’s essential to talk about rainbow capitalism. In essence, rainbow capitalism is when corporations attempt to capitalize off Pride without actually supporting the queer community.

More than 50 years after the Stonewall Riots, it is necessary to reflect on how far removed today’s Pride celebrations can be from their origins.

What Is Rainbow Capitalism?

Rainbow capitalism, aka pink capitalism, is the action of companies claiming to support LGBTQ+ causes and communities, but are actually making merchandise for-profit and capitalize on the trend. In other words, it centers on corporate interests and profit.

As a result, instead of LGBTQ+ issues being at the forefront of Pride events, it is actually capitalism. Ultimately, rainbow capitalism makes Pride less about protests, rights, and freedom and instead becomes a way to turn a profit.

What Does Rainbow Capitalism Look Like?

Rainbow capitalism can include a company or corporation adding a rainbow flag to its logo. It can also look like a business selling rainbow-themed items during June.

With Pride-themed merchandise or branding, corporations end up benefitting from rainbow capitalism efforts. They then end up taking over the spaces meant for queer people.

TikTok users are taking to the platform to critique rainbow capitalism. They have rated Pride merchandise from stores like Hot Topic, Walmart, and Target.

The Target Pride Collection

Many of the videos specifically have been the rating Pride collections from Target. Their collection has nearly 250 products, and many users are making fun of the collection’s aesthetics. According to one user, @dinonuggets.jpg, Target’s striped rainbow button-down is “so ugly it stops being gay and swings around to being aggressively heterosexual.”

@dinonuggets.jpgREVIEWING CLOTHING FROM THE 2021 TARGET PRIDE COLLECTION: gay rights🏳️‍🌈♬ Night & Day – Instrumental

A Shirt that Gets Pronouns Wrongs

Several users have also criticized a shirt that has various sets of pronouns on it. Even though the shirt includes she/her, he/him, and they/them pronouns, it doesn’t seem to be a declaration of the wearer’s pronouns.

TikTok user @calebbbro said, “I understand what they were going for here, and that’s cool, but I feel like this is an invitation for ‘allies’ to misgender you on accident.”

@calebbbro“I think the ugly things deserve more recognition” #fyp #targetpridecollection #lgbt #queer #gay #pride2021 #target #greenscreen♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys – Kevin MacLeod

Target designers created the 2021 collection with the company’s Pride+ Business Council and other employee resource groups. They will also be making a $100,000 donation to GLSEN, an organization that provides supportive, safe experiences for LGBTQ+ students.

Even though a donation like this may seem like allyship, keep in mind that the purchasing power of the LGBTQ+ community is substantial. According to LGBT Capital, the buying power of the LGBTQ+ community is $1 trillion in the United States alone (3.7 trillion globally).

In essence, corporations gain an advantage when advertising to the LGBTQ+ community. Donating $100,000 is a small price to pay when you’re capitalizing off a buying power of 1 trillion dollars, with buying opportunities from the community’s allies, too.

Related: Police Banned from Attending Pride Events in NYC Until 2025

Why Is Rainbow Capitalism Harmful?

The negative consequences of rainbow capitalism include Pride becoming more about consumerism. It also involves folks promoting their allyship with purchased goods instead of through activism. As a result, it can erase queer oppression.

By not acknowledging the roots of queer oppression or the history of Pride, there can be devastating consequences. For instance, rainbow capitalism ignores the core of Pride and the continual violence enacted against different intersections of the queer community,

The visibility of Pride month is crucial; there is no doubting that. However, there must be a deeper understanding and support of LGBTQ+ people.

Pink capitalism, like all forms of capitalism, is exploitative. Companies’ support for the LGBTQ+ often vanishes as soon as Pride month is over. Essentially, these brands and companies do very little to champion the equality and acceptance they are voicing during Pride month. They generally do not invest their efforts or money into fighting against oppressions in the LGBTQ+ community. Is it really taking a stand for human rights if a company just adds a rainbow flag to their logo or sells the slogan’ love is love’ on apparel?

How does rainbow capitalism contribute to deeper issues for queer folks?

Solidarity from these corporations will sometimes extend to gay marriage, but they will not touch the topic of the abolition of the police. Some corporations like Nike, Walmart, and Jack Daniels will come out with rainbow-colored products but continue to invest their money into slave labor, private prisons and ignore the rates at which queer people struggle with substance abuse.

Also, according to Ben Barry, associate professor of equity, diversity, and inclusion at Ryerson University in Toronto:

“Throwing rainbows on t-shirts and jackets…these looks continue to uphold a binary rather than unstitching it.”

Barry states that when brands capitalize on the LGBTQ+ community, it minimizes the ways people perceive queer liberation. Instead, they will associate it closely to heteronormativity and capitalism, limiting queer issues to singular issues like gay rights or marriage. As a result, “it conceals how queer justices are tied to colonialism, racism, transphobia, and capitalism,” said Barry.

What Can You Do to Fight Against Rainbow Capitalism?

To fight against rainbow capitalism, consumers can participate in Pride events focused on activism and take part in protests.

When it comes to purchasing products, consumers can be aware of where they spend their money and make sure that the organization’s merchandise actually supports LGBTQ+ rights.

Purchasing items from queer and locally owned businesses can be a great start. It is especially important to buy from companies owned or operated by queer-owned BIPOC or POC’s. If you aren’t able to support those businesses due to your financial situation, you can highlight their company and promote their products via social media or by telling your friends.

Also, you’ll want to support the LGBTQ+ community and businesses year-round, and not just in June. By doing so, you can support actual queer people and help them make a living instead of corporations who do not as much support.

Why Rainbow Capitalism Needs to End

Seeing positive portrayals of the LGBTQ+ community on advertisements and products can seem like a powerful and amazing thing, but it is essential to look at these efforts through a critical lens. Instead of having a short-lived ad campaign or faux representation that isn’t backed by a genuine corporate commitment to LGBTQ+ rights, taking other steps would benefit the queer community.

For instance, these corporations could introduce policies and practices that protect LGBTQ+ people. These could include promoting more queer people (especially BIPOC) to higher up positions; and giving higher pay to LGBTQ+ employees, seeing as statistically queer people, especially queer, trans, and/or people of color are paid significantly less than their non LGBTQ+ counterparts. Until these steps are put into practice, rainbow capitalism will continue to be a hollow effort that actually exploits LGBTQ+ people.

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Billie Olsen

AUTHOR: Billie Olsen

Billie Olsen (she/they) is a lifestyle writer, disability justice advocate, and cozy femme located in Kelowna, BC, Canada. Their works have appeared in Metro News, Discorder, Sophomore Magazine, the Post-Feminist Post, DINE Magazine, and NerdReader.

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