‘Rainbow capitalism’: Is Pride being commercialised?

On June 28th 1969, the police raided a popular gathering place for members of the LGBTQIA+ community at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village. They arrested the employees for selling liquor without a license and assaulted the patrons of the bar. Outside the club, onlookers were enraged. They started an uprising: throwing debris at the police, forcing them to barricade themselves in the bar. Riots took place outside the bar for five days after this incident. This uprising marks the beginning of a movement to outlaw discriminatory and divisive laws against the LGBTQ community, and ever since, pride month is celebrated through pride parades, symposia and other events during the month of June. 

Have you noticed a rainbow tinted bottle of Absolut Vodka on special at the end of a supermarket aisle this month? Or have you tucked into a Burger King Pride Whopper? Or perhaps you’ve bought a ‘pride jumper’ from a celebrity merchandise brand. I mean it’s great really, with all of these of businesses and brands celebrating pride month with exciting new products and marketing strategies. Isn’t it?

It’s important for us to question the motives behind this new wave of rainbow products for sale. What exactly are these brands supporting? Does our contribution even go towards the betterment of the LGBTQIA community? Or are we only multiplying profits for these brands?

In 2018, Adidas had a special section on it’s site called the ‘Pride Pack’, selling rainbow merchandise to commemorate Pride Month. However, it also sponsored the World Cup that year which took place in Russia, a country with very stringent anti-LGBTQ laws. This example highlights the phenomenon of pinkwashing, a rampant concept especially during Pride month, where brands exploit the struggle of a community to generate profit. 

There is a massive disconnect that lies in the commercialisation of Pride: brands that promote gay pride may capitalise on the LGBTQ community, without extending support by the means of aid to the LGBTQ community. Karen Tongsten, author and professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Southern California, defines Rainbow Capitalism as the ‘commodification of things related to LGBTQ culture, especially the concept of gay pride.’

The Pride movement has undoubtably gathered force, however it seems brands and businesses are not doing enough to mobilise support for systemic change or justice. It is important to promote gay pride in whatever way we can, but it has to be reinforced by acting upon this, such as encouraging diversity in the workplace and creating anti-discriminatory policies. Without real support, yes we will be able to wear our rainbow sweatshirts and snack on our Limited Edition Skittles for Pride month, however we will not be able to stop discrimination and marginalisation of the LGBTQ community.

Published by Madhubani Jana

University of Sheffield undergrad journalism student Political enthusiast

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