Here’s why not all of the rainbow-washed logos and merch you’ve seen across the web function as the best examples of allyship and supporting a worthy cause.
What Is Pride?
You’ve seen the rainbow merch, you’ve witnessed the parades, you’ve heard of the legendary parties and concerts that happen across the US—but do you know where it all started?
In June 1969, an uprising took place at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in protest of the harassment and persecution of queer people at the hands of the police. These individuals who refused to back down and face discrimination for their sexuality are who we have to thank for the beginning of a crucial movement: overturning discriminatory laws and practices against LGBTQ+ people.
In the tradition of monumental equality events occurring in June, Obergefell v. Hodges, a landmark civil rights case, was decided in June of 2015. The result: same-sex couples were guaranteed the right to marry under the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause.
Stonewall & Obergefell were both groundbreaking moments in United States history—events both recognized and honored today for turning the tides towards sexual equality. It’s the reason why people today can celebrate proudly and freely, both in June and all year long.
It is, however, easy to get lost in the fun and excitement of pride and lose touch with the real reasons why we celebrate…making way for a shallow marketing practice commonly referred to as “rainbow-washing.”
What Is Rainbow-Washing?
The short answer: all talk and no action.
Rainbow-washing (also called pink-washing or rainbow capitalism) occurs when a brand, business, or corporate entity decides to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community by emblazoning their visual presence or products with rainbows and other symbols of allyship—while, for the rest of the year, completely ignoring the existence of the same community they claim to support.
In some cases, it’s even worse than that: these “allies” don’t simply ignore the community, but show support for other businesses and figures that stand in the way of LGBTQ+ awareness and acceptance.
How Is Rainbow-Washing Detrimental?
While rainbow-washing can be the butt of many jokes across social media throughout Pride Month. And we totally get it, the memes are hilarious.
At the same time, rainbow-washing is more than just a means of poking fun at how out of touch brands can be, and actually hints at underlying problems and prejudices that, as a society, we still have a lot of work to do to overcome.
Brands during Pride pic.twitter.com/y4WQP56G14— Shiro Sirius (@ShiroSirius) June 29, 2017
Rainbow-washing trivializes the Pride celebrations
When businesses slap some rainbows on their website and call themselves allies, it’s great for building awareness and encouraging others to align themselves with the LGBTQ+ community. However, if that’s the only kind of participation happening, it turns Pride into a holiday not unlike Halloween—where brands can put on their “ally costume” for the month of June before going back to their day-to-day activities afterwards. The more frequently that happens, the more likely allyship will be seen as apparel and decoration and not genuine support.
Brands can profit from Pride Month—without sharing that success with the LGBTQ+ community in a meaningful way
At this point, rolling out a Pride-themed product collection is a way to earn a quick buck with people that want to dress the part for Pride celebrations. It’s especially exploitative when none of that cash or those businesses' efforts are dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ rights.
It popularizes performative allyship over genuine support
In June 2021, musician and performance artist Dorian Electra unveiled the “Dorian Electra® Official Pride™ T-Shirt,” featuring the rainbow-fication of high-profile brand logos, many of whose respective corporate entities have histories of LGBTQ+ discrimination. The design itself seems to show it best: graphic design is easy, but true support takes a lot more effort.
What Can Brands Do To Celebrate Pride The Right Way?
To support the LGBTQ+ community this month with more than just your business’ graphic design prowess, put these tasks on your to-do list.
Learn the history before speaking up
Back up your support with the facts, so you can speak about your allyship from an informed place! Since you’re reading this blog now, you’re already starting strong. Other great resources are available via LGBTQ Nation and Pink News.
Listen & amplify queer voices
Hear what the LGBTQ+ people in your community, on TV, and online have to say. Collaborate with and share messages from queer creators and influencers. Show the community that you hear them and can help build their voices up!
Donate to the cause
If you’re able, give to a nonprofit that supports the LGBTQ+ community. Charity Navigator currently has a Pride Month section of their site with an extensive list of relevant nonprofits in the US.
It’s vital that businesses today have the confidence to speak up about the important social issues that affect the people they’re marketing to—but it’s also crucial that it’s done in a way that’s thoughtful, well-researched, and authentic.
That’s no easy task, but we’re happy to help support your efforts in any way we can! Learn more about our social media counseling program here or get in touch with our team to chat about navigating the road ahead together.
- Megan O'Keefe
- Social Media & Content Specalist