Rainbow washing: Detecting the pretentious allyship of brands
Pride month is here and aside from the many celebrations such as parades, parties and events, one expected phenomenon are the rainbow flags put over brand logos to signal their allyship to the LGBTQ2S+ community. But as many activists and queer organizations have noticed, many of these corporations only seem to be active during pride month and are only there to make a quick buck without actual sincere support.
Many have coined the term rainbow washing, which according to the online feminist encyclopedia This is Gendered, is a performative act of allyship using rainbow imagery to advertising, apparel, accessories, logos, etc. to indicate progressive support to LGBTQ2S+ initiatives to earn consumer credibility without tangible contribution to the queer community.
It may be hard to determine which brands and companies have genuine allyship to offer to queer people, but there are some telltale signs on how to figure out which brands are rainbow washing.
One Month Support
One of the ways to determine if a company is rainbow washing is by looking at their activity and marketing outside pride month. For the past few years, many brands have seen how much buying power there is within the queer community especially during the month of June. It’s easy to jump on this bandwagon and reap the benefits of the monthly celebration.
Many meaningful actions such as having queer models used in advertising and marketing all year round and without rainbow imagery. Brands should have events where they amplify the voices of queer people during different times of the year. The perspective of their brand messaging should be centred on actual queer experiences and not the usual outside-looking-in perspective from straight people.
Donating to Oppressive Entities
A glaring sign that a brand or company is only in it for the money in their pride sponsorships is the donations they make to various politicians, personalities and organizations. Their so-called efforts and initiatives for queer people will only be negated by the donations they make to entities that actively create ways to discriminate and harm queer people.
Popular Information, an independent newsletter focused on accountability journalism, investigated various major corporations in the United States and found that 25 of them have spent more than $10 million since 2019 in support of members of Congress who have sponsored anti-queer and anti-trans legislations. Some of these companies include Comcast, AT&T, Home Depot, United Parcel Service (UPS), Deloitte, Amazon, Google and more.
This month, Walmart used rainbow colours on their logo and have developed a marketing campaign called #MyFamilyMyPride centred around celebrating all kinds of families especially LGBTQ2S+ families. But what most people don’t know about the corporate giant is that since 2019, it has donated at least $442,000 USD to 121 politicians who received a zero rating from Human Rights Campaign’s 2020 Corporate Equality Index. This Index looks at how employers including lawmakers take “concrete steps to establish and implement comprehensive policies, benefits and practices that ensure greater equity for LGBTQ workers and their families.”
According to Popular Information, Walmart also donated $43,000 USD to legislators from Arkansas, North Carolina and Texas who are pushing for anti-trans legislations. Through this donation, 19 lawmakers from Arkansas were able to pass a bill in April 2021 that banned gender-affirming treatment for trans youth.
Toxic Workplace Culture
Netflix is known for producing many queer-themed shows and films. Sense8, Heartstopper, Happiest Season and Elite are only few of the productions from the streaming giant that put LGBTQ2S+ stories at the forefront. Although this might be the case, Netflix still got a lot of flak from Dave Chappelle got a lot of flak from his recent comedy special where he made derogatory jokes about trans people.
From this issue, hundreds of employees from Netflix who called themselves “Team Trans” have staged a walkout where they are saying that Chapelle’s special is transphobic and also pushing for more intersectional and inclusive content on the platform.
In an interview with CBS News, Terra Field, a Netflix software engineer and vice president of Team Trans, said that “We feel our time and energy is better spent pushing for a content warning for all transphobic content, and focusing on creating new opportunities for queer and trans creators.”
In that same article, Netflix has maintained that Chappelle’s words did not “cross the line on hate” and would therefore stay on the platform. In a different interview with Variety, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos has also said that he believes Chappelle’s special does not fall into hate speech.
Although Netflix has shown much support for the queer community through their LGBTQ2S+ content, it is clear that this is not reflected in their internal workplace practice. Their inability to look at Chappelle’s special and not see that this will be harming a large part of their audience and their employee population is indicative of how much they only value profit over their principle of sincerely supporting the queer community.
Pride has evolved to become such a grandeur celebration every year. And while that’s a sing of improvement in terms of general acceptance of the community, it’s important to remember that pride is rooted in protests and demanding support. The black and trans folk of Stonewall Riot in New York did not start a revolution just so corporate brands can benefit off of the difficult work of the queer community to finally become visible. So, as the month of June progresses, let’s take a vigilant look at what brands we are supporting, if they are also sincerely supporting us and the people we love.