It’s Pride Month, which means companies big and small are showing up and out for the LGBTQIA2S+ community. While clothing, beauty, and accessory brands are now selling rainbow merch galore, what does the commodification of Pride do for the LGBTQIA2S+ community? Well, depending on which company you’re buying from, nothing. And we have rainbow capitalism to thank for that.

Rainbow capitalism is when businesses capitalize off of the LGBTQIA2S+ rights movement through marketing campaigns and product collections. Much like white feminism, rainbow capitalism tends to be performative and fails to address real issues harming the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Capitalism isn’t always a tide that raises all ships. And this is still the case even if the tide is rainbow-hued. In capitalist U.S. society, the tide is typically man-made and designed only to raise the ships of white people, including minorities like white women and most white members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Capitalist greed is usually the reason why corporations prefer to stay quiet on some of the biggest issues harming the community.

Ghaith Hilal of AlQaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, states, “You cannot have queer liberation while apartheid, patriarchy, capitalism, and other oppressions exist. It’s important to target the connections of these oppressive forces.” But most companies aren’t interested in fighting these oppressive forces. It’s easier to change a logo to a rainbow flag than to actively work to end homelessness, the criminalization of sex work, the carceral system, and the violence against Palestinians. In addition, police brutality, climate change, and gentrification disproportionately affect BIPOC and the LGBTQIA2S+ communities— and yet I can guarantee that almost none of the companies waving Pride flags this June will speak out against any of these issues.

Anti-Racism Daily’s Nicole Cardoza writes, “there’s no excuse for brands to ignore the LGBTQIA+ community the rest of the year while only providing rainbows as acknowledgment in June. It seems like some corporations think yearly superficial appeals to the LGBTQIA+ community will allow them to tap into this market, while making real commitments to the community would prove too costly.” Vox’s Alex Abad-Santos agrees, stating: “Brands promoting gay pride and the LGBTQ community may not always be consistent in actually supporting the LGBTQ community, but they still capitalize on the help that people want to give that community.”

Similar critiques have inspired some brands to do more than just launch a Pride collection. Last year, companies standing with the LGBTQIA2S+ community included ASOS, who supported GLAAD; Nike, who partnered with 20 organizations like Campus Pride, the Hetrick-Martin Institute, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and the National Gay Basketball Association; MAC Cosmetics, who donated 100% of the proceeds from the Viva Glam lipstick to efforts to end HIV/AIDS; among others. However, brands like Nike have been accused of human rights violations, making their Pride partnerships and donations contradictory. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are a part of every single global society, so putting any group at risk is an LGBTQIA+ issue.

This year, brands once again are teaming up with organizations. For example, Converse’s 2021 Pride collection is in support of It Gets Better Project, Ali Forney Center, BAGLY, and OUT MetroWest; Reebok is donating $75,000 to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project; Levi’s is making its annual donation to OutRight Action International; Crocs made a donation to GLAAD; Dr. Martens is donating $100,000 to The Trevor Project, and NYX Cosmetics partnered with the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

There’s also the much-talked-about Pride line from Target. The collection is the retailer’s 10th year in partnership with GLSEN, with this year’s donation amounting to $100,000. TikTok decided to turn everyone’s For You Page into a runway for the collection. But instead of clapping politely, most users were aghast at how ugly, questionable, or unable to read the room most of the pieces were in the collection. Walmart, Hot Topic, Spencer’s, and more received similar critiques.

While publicly supporting the LGBTQIA2S+ community is important, and donations to charities and organizations are a plus, buying from these Pride collections only further lines the pockets of the abovementioned brands and corporations who may or may not be helping the LGBTQIA2S+ community year-round. These brands might seem like they’re putting their money where their mouth is to support the LGBTQIA2S+ community, but their actions elsewhere prove otherwise.

According to GLAAD, more than “40% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people and almost 90% of transgender people have experienced employment discrimination.” These stats are extremely high and show why companies have to do more than change their logo in June. If the above brands and corporations genuinely support the LGBTQIA2S+ community, then they will make sure they’re paying their workers’ respectable wages, offering healthcare and benefits, creating a healthy work environment for everyone, and fighting against discrimination with proper training and policies.

Wired’s Justice Namaste argues rainbow capitalism and “rainbow-washing allow people, governments, and corporations that don’t do tangible work to support LGBTQ+ communities at any other time during the year to slap a rainbow on top of something in the month of June and call it allyship.” Wired’s Emma Grey Ellis adds, “A decent share of these corporations could take another lesson in allyship. Being an ally is like being a wingman: If you make it about you, you’re doing it wrong!”

No one is saying brands shouldn’t support the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Discrimination and hate crimes still happen today, and brands publicly standing with the community are important. But solidarity needs to happen year-round and in acknowledgment of intersectionality. Brands need to realize rainbow capitalism isn’t always doing the most good, since most of the profits do not reach the bank accounts of members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

This is why it’s better to bypass most Pride collections and instead shop straight from local and small businesses owned by members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Big-name brands and corporations could have done this by hiring artists, designers, and creatives from the LGBTQIA2S+ community to design their collections or sell their merch in-store.

Rainbow capitalism comes down to the fact that many corporations benefit socially and economically from Pride merchandise and branding. Historically, Pride has been about protests, rights, and liberation. Unfortunately, there is still much to protest in order to achieve rights and liberation for many groups in the LGBTQIA2S+ community. The Human Rights Campaign called 2021 the “worst year in recent history for LGBTQ state legislative attacks,” with transgender people targeted by more than 100 bills introduced in 33 states in the United States.f In addition, there are still 14 countries around the world that criminalize transgender people. How are Pride-celebrating companies working to oppose this legislation?

While Pride is a celebration, there is still much work to be done globally to help liberate the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Rainbow capitalism isn’t the solution.

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  • Kayla Webb

    Kayla Webb is a writer with a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. When she's not obsessing over words and sentences, Kayla can be found trying to read too many books at one time, snuggling with her cats, and fangirling over everything pop culture.

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