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Rainbow Capitalism

Somewhere over the rainbow is a company that just wants your money.

Two wristbands one with 'pride' written on it and the other with rainbow colours
Photo by Eduardo Pastor on Unsplash

What is rainbow capitalism?

Rainbow capitalism is the attempt to appeal to members of the LGBTQIA+ community through advertising and merchandise to make a profit. The rainbow has now become a badge of superficial morality as these companies often don’t actually support the queer community in ways that matter.

There are countless memes and tweets making fun of the ‘rainbowfication’ process that company logos undergo every June. Suddenly companies care about love, inclusion, and solidarity. To show their support, the Pride flag is carelessly thrown onto anything and everything they can sell. However, when the clock strikes 12 am on July 1st, the magic wears off and the rainbows disappear. It's a stark reminder that the existence of the LGBTQIA+ community and the struggles they face are largely ignored during the rest of the year.

What does the data say?

The Community Marketing & Insights (CMI) research company conducts annual LGBTQ community surveys. These surveys provide a helpful view of the community’s attitude towards companies that want to appeal to them.

In the 16th annual survey conducted in June 2022, 71% of participants agreed that they were more likely to buy from a company that reaches out and advertises to the LGBTQ community. This large percentage highlights why criticising and calling out rainbow washing is so important. Increased awareness of social issues and consumer consciousness means people are more careful about where they are spending their money. The same study also asked their candidates about the best ways in which companies can show support. “Openly supports LGBTQ equality legislation” and “Actively supports its LGBTQ employees” received the most votes for “shows strong support” with 87% and 82% respectively. Whereas only 40% of candidates said that “Creates advertisements featuring LGBTQ imagery” and “Sponsors a local Pride celebration” shows strong support. The remaining 60% voted for some or no support.

What does this tell us? Although people were more likely to purchase from companies that advertised to the LGBTQ+ community what really matters most to them is legislative support and support for queer employees. If companies intend to exploit and profit off of minority groups then they should be held accountable. It isn’t enough to make vacuous statements. Support for the LGBTQIA+ community should last all year not just for the month of June. Companies are no longer able to get away with pretending to care about queer people to simply profit off of them or even worse causing active harm behind the facade like Disney for example.

How can companies make real change?

There are several ways in which these large corporations can genuinely support the LGBTQIA+ community. The first point of focus should be on queer people in the workplace. Do they feel safe and supported? It is important to make sure that policies are in place which protect them. Is the workplace diverse? They should involve queer people in the making of advertisements and products that are targeted towards the community. This way they can create meaningful and authentic campaigns rather than ones that feel hollow and out of touch. Donations can be made to reputable charities throughout the year and especially during Pride month. Financial investment can make a huge difference in the community and better ensure that members of the LGBTQIA+ receive the care and support they need.

What can we do?

In 2020 following the tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd flocked to show their support for the black community. The founder of UOMA Beauty, Sharon Chuter, created the ‘Pull up or Shut up’ campaign to challenge companies and call them out on their lack of diversity. Companies could voluntarily share their data or be put in the hot seat for ignoring the challenge. It was a great idea and I believe it could be useful for the LGBTQIA+ community also to create change at a higher level. But what if you’re not a CEO or founder of a company? What can the average person do to make a change?

People protesting, holding signs that read, "Love is a Human Right"
Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash
  1. The first step is awareness. Educating yourself about these issues means that you are less likely to be deceived by empty displays of solidarity and make a more informed decision about where you spend your money.

  2. Protesting and volunteer work are both great ways to show support, raise awareness and be an active participant in vital change. If you have some spare time, use it to find a charity that supports an important cause and find out how you can help.

  3. Keep talking! Social media is a tool that can be used for good. It allows us to share information quickly on a global scale. This helps to highlight important stories happening which may have otherwise gone largely unnoticed. Social media is also a great way to hold companies accountable. You can let your voice be heard in the comments and let these companies know that we expect more from them.

  4. Purchasing from local artists and businesses that are owned by queer people and/or have a track record of supporting the LGBTQIA+ community is also important. It is a more accessible method of activism. The advantages are supporting small/local businesses (good for sustainability) and knowing that your money has gone towards a good cause whilst receiving meaningful items to decorate yourself or your home.


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