Last month was pride month, and in the last 5 years or so that has increasingly meant that brands who have never mentioned ‘gay rights’ before in their entire existence release a rainbow collection and post something pretty meaningless about pride month and inclusivity on their social media. It’s a relatively new phenomenon but it has become old really fast. Originally, only brands that actually held Pride values at their core were making celebratory merchandise. As time has gone on, it seems as though every brand releases at least one Pride-themed item for June and it can be seen as nothing more than exploiting a good cause.
Commercialising honest events is not new. Christmas and Valentine’s day are probably the best examples of this, but these events do not hold intrinsic, historical value for the majority of people celebrating them. Pride is still so important, it’s not only to honour the work of the Stonewall activists, such as Marsha P Johnson, but to continue the fight for equal rights and the acceptance of members of the LGBTQIA+ community today.
CC Marie, a YouTuber, did a great analysis video on this recently. She talks specifically about the money brands are sending to politicians that do not support gay rights while also releasing a pride collection and posting about acceptance on their social media. For example, AT&T and American Airlines donated large sums of money to Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign, a man actively blocking the calls to extend the civil rights act to include sexual orientation and gender identity, but have changed their social media avatars and banners to acknowledge pride. She calls it ‘Rainbow Capitalism’ and refers to the pride marches we see now being less of a protest and more like a Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.
From a more casual media standpoint, Pride month has become more of a ‘cute’ cash-in than an annual protest to change the way gay people are treated globally.
In 2018, Adidas sold rainbow merchandise to honour pride month while also sponsoring the World Cup taking place in Russia, a country with extremely anti-LGBT laws and a rife issue with LGBT hate crimes. Even the brands that donate the money made from their pride collections tend to donate a maximum of 50%, still making a solid profit as a result of rainbow-washing.
We saw a very similar thing last year during the outcry after the murder of George Floyd and brands scrambling to appear as though they care about diversity and black issues but have done pretty much nothing since. A documentary aired in the UK recently titled ‘Do Black Lives Stil Matter?’ featured employees of Asos who said that in general, their work towards a diverse employee base is pretty surface level and not particularly effective.
What exactly should we, as consumers, be looking out for when choosing to vote with our coin? Do we have to look up the donation history of brands and their CEOs or will corporations start to actually be more progressive? Surely it’s just as, if not more, hard to put on the facade of progressiveness than it is to just be progressive? In the case of political causes, the best places to buy from are probably indie brands, one-person businesses and charities.