Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 23, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Comment Rainbow Capitalism: Will the real LGBTQ+ allies please stand up?

Rainbow Capitalism: Will the real LGBTQ+ allies please stand up?

Harry Craig, Print deputy editor, explores whether Pride month and LGBTQ+ movements have become overshadowed by companies seeking profit.
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Rainbow Capitalism: Will the real LGBTQ+ allies please stand up?

Image: Stock catalog via flickr

Harry Craig, Print Deputy Editor, explores whether Pride month and LGBTQ+ movements have become overshadowed by companies seeking profit.

The rainbow tsunami. It is inevitable every 1st of June. As you do your regular social media morning scroll, many brands have changed their logo to incorporate the pride flag, or put out a vacuous statement proselytising its support for LGBTQ+ rights. 

The so-called “pink pound” has been a growing trend among businesses in recent years, hoping to capitalise on the LGBTQ+ community as a way of turning a profit. This is, of course, most notable during Pride Month. On the one hand, this is a demonstration of the progress made in the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in wider society; back in the 1980s it was unthinkable that brands would want to openly associate with, and embrace, pride.

This, however, is where the root of the problem lies. Beyond adding a rainbow onto their logo throughout June, or other similarly performative moves, these companies are rarely actual allies in the fight for queer liberation, and will happily distance themselves from pride if they fear it would affect their profits.

Beyond adding a rainbow onto their logo throughout June, or other similarly performative moves, these companies are rarely actual allies in the fight for queer liberation

This was on full display in the run-up to this year’s Pride Month across the Atlantic in the US. In May, American retailer Target launched its Pride range of clothes and other items. Cue a tirade of anger from conservative anti-LGBTQ+ extremists, demanding that Target removed the range, and even resorting to death threats. Unsurprisingly, Target buckled under the pressure, and pulled the range from its stores in the southern US states and its website. Thus, exposing the hypocrisy of rainbow capitalism – using the LGBTQ+ community for their own gain and then happily throwing them under the bus.

Unfortunately, this is not a trend restricted to the culture war warriors across the pond. It is gradually being imported to the UK, and trans people have become the latest target, in the same vein as the demonisation of gay and bisexual men at the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1980s. A decade or so ago, J.K. Rowling caused a stir by claiming she had written Dumbledore as a “gay character” in the Harry Potter series, despite never alluding to this in the books – cynically (and perhaps correctly), many saw this as an attempt to capitalise on the gay community to sell books and movies. In recent years, many have argued that Rowling’s discourse has devolved into transphobic bile and hatred, and in doing so, has set the LGBTQ+ cause back decades.

There are occasional instances of companies doing rainbow capitalism right. Absolut Vodka is perhaps the epitome of this – they were the first brand to advertise in gay magazines in 1981, and continued to work alongside the queer community throughout the 1980s. Importantly, their commitment to the cause also extends beyond just putting a rainbow on their bottles (although their rainbow bottles DO look absolutely iconic). They were the first major brand to partner with LGBTQ+ organisations and fundraised for HIV/AIDS charities in the 1980s, and as of 2023, have actually spent more money in donations to LGBTQ+ causes than in marketing to LGBTQ+ people.

However, the overwhelming majority of major brands remain solely profit-driven. And as attacks on the LGBTQ+ community continue to surge, with the BBC reporting last year that tolerance of the community is “going backwards”, it is inevitable that more companies will follow in the footsteps of Target in sacrificing queer people over profit. This is the fundamental issue with rainbow capitalism – and why now more than ever, we need to ask the real LGBTQ+ allies to stand up and defend queer liberation in the face of growing opposition.

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