What is rainbow capitalism and how does it impact LGBTQ people?
As Pride Month takes place every June, big brands offer pride products seemingly as a sign of solidarity – but the trend is criticized as an act of exploiting rainbow capitalism.
Karen Tongson, professor of gender and sexuality studies at the University of Southern California, defines rainbow capitalism as the “commodification of things related to LGBT culture, especially the concept of gay pride.” . Think of everything from pride flags to rainbow-themed sweatshirts and sunglasses that can be found in stores as Pride Month approaches.
While intentions can be good and lead to some representation, this commodification can be harmful, according to Joshua Coleman, psychologist, speaker and author of “Rules of estrangement: why adult children cut ties and how to resolve conflict. “
LEGO launches very first LGBTQ set ahead of Pride month
The set includes 11 monochrome minifigures that make up the colors of the rainbow, a symbol of pride.
“On the one hand, it promotes acceptance in the sense that it normalizes something that has to continue to be normalized and accepted … But I think there is also a kind of annoyance about hypocrisy. ranks of some of those companies that in the past may have actively discriminated against the LGBT community, ”he said.
This year in particular, there has been increased appeal for Rainbow Capitalism, in part driven by TikTok users who have commented on certain stores’ Pride collections.
User @ylracbutler described Target’s Pride line as “… interesting …”
“Besties, I’m scared…” she wrote, showing off a rainbow costume and other items, garnering 1.4 million likes.
“We’re not circus clowns, brother,” one user commented. Another joked, “(They) found the most straight intern and put him on this project.”
User @awolfsquared has garnered 1.4 million likes for sharing critical clips of Walgreens’ Pride merchandise. One user pointed out that the products seemed to lack effort. “They really said ‘we have to do this, so let’s hurry’,” user @ shelbyglenn.j wrote.
Target and Walgreens aren’t the only big brands promoting Pride, of course. Lego made waves in May with the launch of its very first LGBTQ-themed set, and Fossil sells rainbow flag and transgender bracelets. Apple, Disney, Adidas, Gap, and other companies ranging from clothing to tech all bring pride to life in one way or another.
Tongson says rainbow capitalism allows big business to profit from the queer experience.
“It fails in every possible way, in terms of systemic or structural change or justice for the community he claims to represent,” she says. “Of course it helps to see someone who looks like you … (but) if it’s not backed up by something substantial, like a real commitment to hire LGBT people or make sure they there are no discriminatory laws …. it won’t make any difference because people are always going to suffer the same injustices. They can just dress up in a rainbow outfit while doing it. “
Coleman says the lingering problem of community safety is another reason these campaigns can rub people the wrong way.
“That feeling of being used in this way and exploited and taken advantage of would contribute to this feeling that your identity is sort of something over which you don’t have full control,” he explains. “You don’t have full control over the narrative about it and it could definitely increase feelings of anxiety or things related to it.”
People have also expressed their frustration with Rainbow Capitalism on social media.
Twitter user @notsoscify Pride says feels “co-opted as another ‘happy X’ party … especially with all of rainbow capitalism … it seems very out of touch with the real reason behind the pride.”
User @lgbtqbpd Rainbow Capitalism said “makes me feel so empty.”
Brands try to make sense of their actions by donating a portion of the proceeds from the sale of their Pride products. But sometimes donations are capped at a certain amount. For example, Abercrombie & Fitch gives a fixed amount to the organization of their choice, which, as user @mckensea puts it, “seems a little weird because (they) are going to make more profit than (they) make donations “.
Tongson says donations often don’t end up in the hands of the most influential organizations. Instead, the money is “immersed in the same type of business structures that these companies give money to.”
The result is that consumers of Pride equipment are increasingly aware and strive to shop where profits will have the greatest impact, including small gay-owned businesses.
For example, consumers are taking note that companies only feature under-represented groups in their respective history or legacy months, says Ali Fazal, vice president of marketing for the Marketing Platform of affecting. SMILE.
“(If) the only time they see LGBT people represented is during Pride Month, it’s clear that what you’re doing isn’t a long-term development for your business and marketing,” says Fazal. “You’re just trying to capitalize on the seasonality this month.”
Tongson agrees that consumers are well aware that Pride products benefit the companies that sell them, and they are doing the work to review the policies of those companies.
“It’s very easy to put a rainbow over something, but at the end of the day are you going to stand up for your trans employees when they face, say, a discriminatory law? ” She wonders. “So while people may appreciate the symbolic gesture, it is still purely symbolic.”
Fazal hopes the pride lines can still have a “positive halo effect with society.”
For example, department stores that promote Pride lines can reach queer people in places where representation is otherwise scarce.
“Perhaps the fact that Target has a pride line is one of the most common representations of LGBT pride that they’ve seen wherever they live,” he explains.
Beyond shopping, Tongson points out that Rainbow Capitalism highlights the disconnect between the roots of Pride activism and what it is today.
“So many trans women of color and queers of color who are at the heart of these activists’ efforts have been erased from these stories as a more sanitized version of Pride has increasingly become the corporate flavor genre of Pride. “, she says.
She also advises people not to look to these companies for validation or “symbols of acceptance.”
“Expect more,” she said. “No little shopping, no matter how hard capitalism tries to convince you of it, will make you feel freedom, you have to go get it.”
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