Pride month: a time of celebration or exploitation?
Ella Minty, Print Arts + Lit Editor, discusses the potentially corrupt motives behind corporations’ participation in Pride Month celebrations.
The end of June marks fifty-three years since the Stonewall Riots, where LGBTQ+ people fought for their rights in a series of riots in New York City. The eventual outcome was the celebration of Pride, where different towns and cities hold celebrations across the month of June celebrating the LGBTQ+ community. Pride has become a huge event; 2.5 million people attended the New York City Pride March in 2016. Pride is a jubilant celebration of a largely marginalised community, but recently there have been questions surrounding the numerous global companies that get involved in pride month – only to disappear shortly after with little impact on the LGBTQ+ community.
We have all seen the pride themed items global companies produce – rainbow Apple watch straps, rainbow Converse, Levi’s t-shirts, even pride-themed mouthwash. The list goes on – pride themed hair products, a rainbow Nike tick, rainbow themed vodka branding.
Companies change their logo to rainbow colours for public support to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. But is this an empty gesture? What does this actually do to support the community except bolster capitalist enterprises and make them more profit?
Recently there have been questions surrounding the numerous global companies that get involved in pride month – only to disappear shortly after with little impact on the LGBTQ+ community.
Take Adidas, for example. In 2018, Adidas had a special section of its site called the “pride pack” selling rainbow themed items for Pride Month. But it was also one of the major sponsors for that year’s World Cup, which took place in Russia, a country with anti LGBTQ+ laws that made it unsafe for athletes and fans part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Paradoxes such as this are hard to overlook, and throws into question the actual intent of brands supporting Pride Month and sheds light on the emptiness that can lie at the heart of corporate gestures in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
And, of course, it profits them as these items fly off the shelves. This brings into question what Pride Month means, where it came from and when we celebrate it, all because of capitalist enterprise that champions profit over cause.
Of course, money does get donated; companies usually donate a portion of what their customers spend on pride merchandise to LGBTQ+ charities. Nike’s website says that Nike has donated $2.2 million since 2017. This is a positive thing; however, again, there is a darker edge to donations made by these companies. This consumerist donation structure creates a context where brands and consumers are gifted a low-effort way of supporting social and political causes. The money companies donate from Pride goods rarely has tangible results outside of profits for the company.
It’s not just multinational companies. In both the US and the UK, police departments try to capitalise on the Pride brand, however, transgender people are constantly mistreated at the hands of the police. A 2015 survey in the US of 27,715 transgender people found that 58 percent reportedly suffered mistreatment at the hands of the police – ranging from being repeatedly referred to as the wrong gender to being assaulted. It seems that pride is a desirable brand to adorn, no matter the intent or actions of the corporation for the rest of the year.
Pride needs to stop being treated as a way of producing profit or bolstering a company’s image. It needs to stop being commodified. But to do that, global capitalism would have to disappear, and we all know how likely that is to happen.