Businesses Putting a Price on Pride

LiLi Xiong, Commentary Editor

To many, pride month means rainbow flags held up in the joy of being unapologetically queeer. To others, it means being an ally to the LGBT+ members of their community and taking time to celebrate and contemplate on the struggle for LGBT+ people to get to this point—and how to continue that fight for acceptance and equality. To some large corporations, though, pride month seems to be little more than changing their social media profile pictures to rainbows and finding ways to get some extra cash in their pockets.

With growing acceptance of the LGBT+ community around the country, many American corporations have been incorporating pride and the history of the community into their business strategies and advertising, capitalizing on the purchasing power of LGBT+ people. This phenomenon has been coined “rainbow capitalism.” While corporate support for the LGBT+ community is not necessarily a bad thing, there is a fine line between genuine support and money grabs, or worse, a hypocritical and conflicting agenda.

For example, on June 17th, Walmart tweeted “we show our pride every day, during every shift” and sold a variety of pride merchandise ranging from t-shirts to rainbow tea kettles, all while having donated $442,000 to anti-LGBT+ politicians over the past two years, including senators actively blocking the Equality Act, a bill that prohibits discrimination, from becoming law. 

In 2017, Pittsburgh’s Pride parade was renamed the “EQT Equality March” after Equitable Gas (EQT), a fracking company. Not only does fracking have nothing to do with the celebration of pride, but the company notoriously donated over $82,000 to anti-gay politicians: Republican State Rep. Bill Shuster and Republican Senator Tim Murphy, who has received a 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign. Both have had a history of voting against legislation that supports the LGBT+ community, such as the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. It’s clear that many of these corporations’ “support” for the community demonstrates neither dedication nor sincerity. 

While a significant number of corporations are engaging in blatant rainbow-washing, the use of rainbow colors or imagery to falsely indicate support for the community, several companies, such as Adidas, have taken legitimate steps to support the LGBT+ community in ways that are not focused solely on profit. As a major contributor to the Trevor Project, a leading nonprofit organization focused on suicide prevention among queer youth, Adidas has risen above other corporations in terms of genuine support for the community. Corporations can support the LGBT+ community without seeing their efforts as a cash-grab. Companies should take example from Adidas, and back their rainbow logos up with real support for queer issues.

It is important to note, however, that corporate pride is by no means the largest threat the LGBT+ community faces. According to the Human Rights Campaign, trans women of color have the highest suicide rates in the country, and conversion therapy is still legal in 25 states and four territories. Still too many young LGBT+ people are unwelcome in their own families and are discriminated against in the workplace, at school, and while engaging in day-to-day activities. While these issues are certainly more immediately pressing than corporate pride, companies can work to end them through authentic support for LGBT+ people and communities.

Members of the LGBT+ community deserve authentic representation, and corporations need to actively support queer people instead of viewing them as only a marketing demographic. It’s important to remember that pride month at its core is about the community—not companies. It’s about the brave people who fought for gay liberation, LGBT+ activists throughout history and today, and creating a world for new generations of queer people to be treated with the same respect and acceptance as anyone else.