Putting Profit Over Progress in Pride Month

Rainbows, parades, rainbows, flags and rainbows: over the years, June’s Pride month celebrations have become much more accepted and normalized since their rough, yet bold, beginnings. Pride Month is a great time to dismantle stereotypes and support overlooked members of the community — at least, that’s what most of us believe. And why shouldn’t we, with the swelling crowds and millions of slightly modified company statements boasting their alliance? 

This isn’t to bash the steps forward that have come from campaigns and movements that have either started or flourished during June. These hold more power than most of us realize, pushing LGBTQ+ youth to the forefront of discussions and empowering queer folks who don’t have the space to speak up for themselves. We need to support those who are struggling by spreading education and awareness, and some of these movements are doing exactly that. However, a growing issue that has been called out by social media users and activists alike is the continuous capitalism of Pride, as more companies use the month to sell colorful merchandise and make money off of eager customers, including queer folks themselves who want to support their community. As this goes on, Pride Month continues to lose its original message of equality for all. 

Pride celebrations were first sparked by the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, connecting activists across the country and showing what it was like to proudly stand out. The first Pride parades started in the U.S. a year later, and these growing celebrations all over the world brought up specific issues targeting the community, such as the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s. The 90s then brought more media visibility for the parades, which led to June being officially recognized as Pride Month (Gay and Lesbian Pride Month at the time) in 1999, with the definition broadening to LGBT in 2008. As topics of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (a policy that overlooked closeted military personnel while discriminating against those who were openly queer) and the legalization of same-sex marriage gained attention in the 2000s (for opposite reasons), companies began latching onto Pride Month as well to boost their reputations with the public and profit.

Now commonly dubbed “rainbow capitalism,” many companies show their support by releasing statements pledging their alliance to the LGBTQ+ community and selling rainbow-themed products. Unfortunately, there are many hidden problems behind these campaigns, particularly that many companies profiting off of this “rainbow capitalism” secretly support anti-LGBTQ+ groups and politicians. For example, studies found that 25 companies, such as CVS and Walmart, donated 10 million dollars to homophobic politicians in 2021 while still profiting from colorful collections they sported during June. This behavior truly showcases how Pride has become a marketing strategy for huge corporations to profit off of unsuspecting customers, queer and non-queer alike, who simply want to do their part. The companies’ main goal is to continue drawing in sales while avoiding criticism, and the approach of being simultaneously pro-LGBTQ+, with their seemingly heartfelt statements, and homophobic, with donations to discriminatory organizations, is the current plan. It all ties into a repeating cycle of businesses hopping onto the newest “trending” movement, with another recent one being the BLM protests of 2020, with no intention of genuinely contributing to discussion and progress. 

Additionally, the products and merchandise tied to Pride distract from the important messages of Pride Month. Many activists have started to recognize a kind of phony activism, “slacktivism,” that has been birthed from the Pride Month marketing strategy. People are finding a new way to “support” the queer community by buying from these companies that claim to donate to promote equality. Though most consumers have good intentions, these products and advertising don’t do much for the queer community. This marketing strategy steers away people who could have possibly gone out and done more for the community, especially since most companies don’t have much of a tangible effect. For example, Disney+ had advertised their LGBTQ collection during Pride month that included the show The Owl House, despite having also denied the show a second season featuring a bisexual main character. Los Angeles Pride sold more tickets than they had space for, which meant more profit for the company and a claim to supporting the queer community, while hundreds of paying partygoers were turned away. This behavior creates a cruel cycle that traps consumers, leaving them believing that they’re making a difference for community members, while they’re really contributing to a capitalist system that doesn’t bring attention to the real homophobic problems. 

…rainbow capitalism is taking a step backwards in the LGBTQ+ community’s current progress.

Some people go into this capitalist trap thinking that any recognition is good, so as long as it acknowledges the queer community, it’s helping! This couldn’t be farther from the truth; at best, empty queer representation in advertising contributes nothing to the conversation, and at worst,  it steers customers towards a shallow picture of Pride that captures none of its push for acceptance and support. Rainbow capitalism fools people into believing that Pride boils down to rainbows, glitter, and queer creators being thrust into the spotlight for 30 days before hibernating for the next 11 months. When the community wants representation, they mean that they want spread and easily accessible education on terminology; queer people getting equal treatment/ opportunity in healthcare, education and careers; and the overall awareness of the problems the community puts up with daily! And frankly, rainbow capitalism is taking a step backwards in the LGBTQ+ community’s current progress. 

So please, avoid falling into this trap yourself! Small, queer-owned businesses are much preferred: Cupcake Royale is one, a cupcake bakery that has partnered with the GSBA scholarship fund to award LGBTQ+ students scholarships. Additionally, when it comes to donating to organizations, it’s much better to do it directly instead of through the products you buy from corporations. Organizations supporting the queer community such as Out & Equal (non-profit that works toward LGBTQ+ work equality) and The Attic Youth Center (organization dedicated to creating opportunities for LGBTQ+ youth) are always accepting donations. 

In the end, when it comes to promoting equality in any way, shape or form, take the first step yourself instead of depending on huge corporations to do it for you.