Op/Ed: Dissecting Pride Today and the Problem of Rainbow Capitalism

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It’s Pride season, and modern Pride festivals are all about having fun. While it’s important to socialize with and celebrate our community, it’s even more important to use our collective voices to publicly address violations of human rights. Unfortunately, “rainbow capitalism,” the trend of corporations doing the bare minimum to cash in on Pride, is getting in the way.

Pride was not always good music and rainbow leotards. Originally, following the Stonewall Riots, Pride was created as a protest; a public show of celebration in a United States where LGBTQ identities were just receiving media attention.

Still, that was over 40 years ago, and queer Americans have since successfully managed to change public opinion of our community. Now queer culture exists outside of the shadows, at least in the United States. The existing presence of queer public and fictional figures has mainstreamed a culture that was, not so many years ago, seen by the majority of U.S. citizens as morally bankrupt. This popularization has created high demand, and corporations exist to turn demand into profit.

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A consumer report by Nielsen found that “In aggregate, LGBT households spent an average of $4,135 at retail stores in 2014 — 7% more than non-LGBT consumers.” In a 2015 study, Witeck Communications estimated that the combined buying power of the LGBTQ population in the United States was $917 billion.

These studies show that the rise in acceptance of queer identities and the mainstreaming of elements of queer culture have created a huge market, a spring of wealth waiting to be sucked dry by whatever means necessary.

You may have seen the mantra “Queer liberation, not rainbow capitalism” shared by friends on social media. A powerful piece by The Establishment points to how easy it is for people to reward themselves for something like changing their profile picture on Facebook or buying Pride-themed items without actually creating any positive change.

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Pride, like every other U.S. holiday, has become an opportunity for businesses to make money. Perhaps because it feels good to be represented by big business, consumers seem to forget that buying Pride-themed products from major corporations does nothing of substance for the LGBTQ community.

Pride festivals across the globe have become sponsored by big business, a branding technique that creates an image of inclusiveness for said businesses but does nothing to address issues facing vulnerable members of society .

Consumers should become aware of the truth by asking themselves the hard questions:

  • “Where does the money go? Are the businesses profiting off of Pride-themed goods donating any proceeds to LGBTQ causes?”
  • “Does the company in question pay employees a living wage? Are they open with sharing workplace conditions, and do they hire underpaid, outsourced labor?”
  • “Is the CEO of said company actively homophobic or transphobic, or do they donate to any organizations or politicians who are?”

Even if a company publicly supports the LGBTQ community, giving money to big businesses does not translate to queer liberation the way grassroots methods like education, volunteering and activism do.

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LGBTQ people still face legal discrimination, hate crimes, homelessness, lack of access to health care and education, poverty and mental illness, and these issues are consistently ignored at Pride festivals.

Pride is a place to address these issues and express solidarity with the individuals in our community who face them. Pride is a place for queer people and allies, not giant corporate entities with questionable intentions.

As Pride becomes popular, queer people must become more responsible with who we let in our space. We must use our platform (and our dollars) to lift up the most vulnerable members of our community, not stock prices. We must not be afraid to reject rainbow capitalism.

Is rainbow capitalism a problem? Let us know what you think in the comments!