The Dangers of Rainbow Capitalism

Amsterdam Pride Walk 2019. Image from Flickr by André.

Everyone loves LGBTQ Pride month. Clothing and makeup brands, banks, beer companies, fast food chains—businesses across the board seem eager to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community during Pride month, and sometimes year-round. During June, I see rainbows everywhere.

But is this really Pride, or is it just commodification of queer culture to bolster capitalism? What even is “Pride” anyway?

In the 1960s, queer folks either had to hide or endure marginalization, bigotry, and violence. To find safety and community, many took refuge at gay bars and clubs; but these establishments were often targets of police raids. On June 28, 1969, New York City police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village. As police began rough arrests, patrons fought back, sparking a six day period of violence known as the Stonewall Riots. The following year, Stonewall veterans and the supporting community celebrated the first Pride march to commemorate those who fought for the rights of the queer community.

So, how is Teva putting a rainbow platform on sandals or Wells Fargo offering a VIP experience at Denver Pride upholding this legacy? The answer is: they’re not.

Since the passage of marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws, some queer folks have been able to advance more financially and have additional purchasing power. This has created a trend among companies called Rainbow Capitalism or Pink Capitalism. Companies have discovered a new demographic to market to, and they’re more than ready to put rainbows and inspirational “love is love” quotes on their products to profit from the queer community. But not only is this “activism” rarely backed by a real dedication to change, it’s often a downright betrayal of the brave people who risked their lives in 1969.

The patrons of the Stonewall Inn were predominantly BIPOC and the people on the frontline of the riots were overwhelmingly trans women of color. And activists like Marsha P. Johnson, Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera, and Leslie Feinberg who fought bravely against police with so much to lose wouldn't be supported by this modern-day Rainbow Capitalism. Trans folks and queer women of color continue to be harmed either directly or indirectly by these big companies and the power structures they uphold. Very few of these businesses that so proudly market Pride-related products actually donate their profits to queer charities and causes. To be fair, some do: J.Crew donates 50 percent of the purchase price of its Pride t-shirts to queer charities, American Eagle donates 100 percent of sales from its Pride collection to the It Gets Better Project supporting queer youth, and even Listerine, with its debatably ridiculous rainbow-packaged mouth wash, announced that they’ve donated over $1 million to LGBTQ nonprofits. But most companies not only don’t donate their proceeds to queer causes, they also participate in actions that directly harm the queer community.

For example, Jack Daniels and Bud Light both advertise Pride products while ignoring the fact that substance abuse is three to four times more common in the queer community. Wells Fargo is a top donator to Denver Pride, but invests in private prisons—meanwhile, LGBTQ people are more likely to be incarcerated than the general population, and suffer higher rates of sexual assault while incarcerated. Adidas dedicates a page of its site to its “Pride Pack” (a special collection of clothes and shoes), but was a top sponsor of the 2018 World Cup which took place in Russia, a country with dangerous anti-LGBTQ legislation. The list of examples goes on and on.

It’s great that Pride has vocal support from the non-queer community and, theoretically, that companies are advocating for LGBTQ folks. But the Pride these businesses are espousing isn’t the Pride fought for at Stonewall. Instead, these companies’ performative activism allows them to pick and choose which aspects of queer culture are palatable and profitable for them, and this narrow acceptance almost always excludes trans folks and BIPOC. When this allyship only goes skin-deep, and often betrays the queer community behind the scenes, it’s not allyship at all. We have to call it what it is: Capitalizing off of queer culture for corporate gain.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

1 Comment
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Your piece is rallying and interesting. I appreciate this view of the issue- it's something I hadn't really thought about before.

How to cite this page

Smolover-Bord, Liana. "The Dangers of Rainbow Capitalism." 4 June 2021. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 28, 2021) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/dangers-rainbow-capitalism>.

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