Rainbow capitalism, most recognisable in the Skittles’ van in the London Pride parade, with all the skittles turned white to give the rainbow to Pride. This statement straddles the gap between visibility for LGBTQ+ peoples and a shallow marketing strategy. However, this idea is not alone.
Anyone who attended a Pride parade this past year has probably commented on the stream of advertising floats – everyone from Tesco to Spotify donning a rainbow flag and joining the bandwagon. It’s not an overstatement to say that there were more Nando’s Pride flags at Exeter Pride last year than unsponsored ones.
The truth is: Pride festivals cost money. Despite the revenue they generate in concert tickets, merchandise (a Pride flag at the London Parade costs a modest £10), and drinks, club and hostel profits, Pride festivals still seem to require a formidable corporate sponsorship. Many would say that they’d rather have a parade with a few adverts than no parade at all, but at some point the adverts outweigh the LGBTQ+ floats. Some companies hardly bother to tack some colour onto their van, while others (like Nando’s) create a whole marketing campaign directed at the ‘party aspect’ of Pride, with no reference to what they’re doing for their LGBTQ+ employees.
It’s an ongoing debate within the community, particularly as Pride festivals are increasing in size and popularity. At Brighton Pride, the parks and concerts have become more and more expensive, when they were once free to enter. Companies continue to privatise areas of the festival and profit from the community without subsidising the experience for LGBTQ+ people. This limits the experience of Pride to people who can afford it, meaning it is not accessible for all LGBTQ+ people.
As the LGBTQ+ community reach more milestones in political rights, they are identified increasingly as a marketable commodity.
Even ‘equal marriage’ co-opts LGBTQ+ people into neoliberal systems that perpetuate desire and lack as an invitation to the inner chambers of capitalism. Companies profit from including a token LGBTQ+ couple–most often white, cis, gay men with disposal income–in their campaigns. Rainbow capitalism is only on the rise, and Pride parades are the most notable and frequent signifier of this trend. The question is: if the sponsorship doesn’t subsidise LGBTQ+ events, contribute to LGBTQ+ charities or feed back into community, then who is it really for?
Pride originated in the 1969 Stonewall Riots, initiated by police raids on the Stonewall Inn in New York. It was violent, anti-establishment and the participants inhabited a range of LGBTQ+ identities. Would the people in the early riots be warmed by the co-option of Pride festivals into a summer festival, used to advertise chicken and promote student music subscriptions? Or is it a sign of ‘liberation’ that the community can openly inhabit the streets of major cities without having to hide or apologise for our identities?
The problem with LGBTQ+ liberation is that it is already been historicised. Due to these widely publicised festivals, people consider LGBTQ+ rights as ‘achieved’. The fight is over; we already have equal marriage. This beckons to the shortening of LGBTQ+ identities to the cisgender gay or bisexual person. Gender neutral bathrooms, access to hormone therapy for transgender people, and education on pronouns, are still sorely lacking.
The corporations at Pride festivals put all the emphasis on the beauty of love and acceptance, focusing almost entirely on sexuality.
Transgender issues are still heavily stigmatised and a poorly understood part of the community. Companies stay safely within the bounds of that which is already (on the large part) celebrated and accepted, not daring to compromise their popularity while raising awareness for marginalised parts of the community or ongoing political battles.
In this context, it seems that the Pride parade perpetuates the simplification and erasure of LGBTQ+ issues, while profiting from the community. It is often falsely referred to as ‘Gay Pride’, reducing the multitude of LGBTQ+ identities to one label. The heavy corporate sponsorship is counterintuitive to improving LGBTQ+ rights; rather, it gratifies people outside of the community who come for the festival and believe they have ‘done their part of equal rights’, and helps to increase the capital of huge corporations.
The point is not that Pride cannot be both political and have sponsorship but that at the moment, sponsorship is dominant.