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Is Rainbow Capitalism Exploitation With a Party Hat On?

Ah, June. The month when corporate logos magically transform into rainbows, and companies everywhere scramble to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community. But are these brands genuinely supporting the cause, or is it just a colourful cash grab?

As someone who is part of the queer community, I'm divided on the topic. On the one hand, the recognition and normalization are nice. On the other hand, I know dang good and well that most of these companies would do a thing if there weren't an ROI (return on investment) - which means that at the end of the day, how much they care boils down to dollar signs, not ethics.

What is Rainbow Capitalism?

Rainbow capitalism, also known as pink capitalism, refers to the way corporations use the LGBTQ+ community’s symbols and slogans, particularly during Pride Month, to market their products and enhance their public image. On the surface, it looks like progress, and in some ways, it is. But scratch that shiny, disco ball surface, and you'll find cracks in the facade.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

  1. Visibility and Awareness:

  • Let’s give credit where it’s due. When major brands plaster rainbows on their products, it does help raise visibility and awareness for LGBTQ+ issues. It can foster a sense of acceptance and normalcy in spaces that might otherwise be devoid of, which is a good thing.

  1. Financial Support:

  • Some companies put their money where their mouth is. They donate a portion of their Pride-themed product sales to LGBTQ+ charities and support initiatives that genuinely benefit the community.

The Bad

  1. Performative Allyship:

  • Too often, companies are all about the rainbow during June but go back to business as usual come July 1st. This performative allyship doesn’t do much for the community if it’s not backed by year-round support and policies that promote inclusivity.

  1. Exploitation for Profit:

  • Let’s face it – slapping a rainbow on a product and calling it a day is a low-effort way to tap into the LGBTQ+ market. It can feel like exploitation or when there’s no real commitment to the community behind the marketing. Remember, marketing without anything to back it up is just pandering.

The Ugly

  1. Hypocrisy:

  • Some companies wave the Pride flag with one hand while donating to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians or maintaining discriminatory policies with the other. This hypocrisy is infuriating and harmful to the community they claim to support. Home Depot. FedEx. Pfizer.

How to Spot Genuine Support vs. Rainbow-Washing

Not all rainbow-themed marketing is created equal. Here’s how to tell if a brand is genuinely supporting the LGBTQ+ community or just hopping on the Pride bandwagon for profit:

  1. Year-Round Commitment:

  • Check if the brand supports LGBTQ+ issues outside of Pride Month. Do they have inclusive policies? Do they promote diversity and support LGBTQ+ employees throughout the year?

  1. Financial Contributions:

  • Look into whether the brand donates a significant portion of its profits from Pride-themed products to LGBTQ+ charities and causes. Genuine support often comes with financial backing.

  1. Advocacy and Activism:

  • See if the company actively advocates for LGBTQ+ rights. Are they involved in legislative efforts? Do they publicly stand against anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination?

Real-Life Examples of Genuine Support

Ben & Jerry’s:

  • Known for their progressive values, Ben & Jerry’s consistently supports LGBTQ+ rights year-round. They back up their rainbow packaging with advocacy and substantial financial contributions to related causes.

Hershey Canada:

  • When faced with backlash for featuring trans rights advocate Fae Johnstone in a campaign, the company stood beside her and the promo.

The North Face:

  • Defended their Pride ad featuring a drag queen after two Republican congresswomen told their social media following to boycott them.


Rainbow capitalism is a mixed bag. While it can bring visibility and support to the LGBTQ+ community, it’s crucial to distinguish between genuine allyship and marketing ploys. The world is getting more dangerous for the queer community, and support at every level is more important than ever.

As businesses, we have the power to offer support with substance. This year, I want to see companies turn their hollow promises into something meaningful - and that means cowboying up and embracing the values of Pride. Solidarity, collectivity, and identity as well as resistance to discrimination and violence.

As Pride month rolls out and the summer weather rolls in, consumers should look closely at how the corporate world and their local businesses engage with the LGBTQ community. Who takes part? Who sponsors Pride? Who clams up and takes a large step back? Unfortunately for us, the art of noticing has consequences: you can't unknow that these companies aren't supportive. Personally, I'll be keeping notes and voting with my wallet.

Next time you see a rainbow product, take a moment to check if the company behind it is walking the walk or just talking the talk. And remember, real support doesn’t end when the rainbow flags come down.


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