By Rosalie Zuckermann
During the month of June, it has become common to see businesses change their social media profile pictures, incorporating a rainbow flag to symbolize their allyship to the LGBTQ+ community for Pride Month. It is also common to see major corporations toting cliche designs meant for nothing more than drawing in money. When corporate pride merchandise inevitably appears in June, it has become something of an online tradition to mock the merchandise. Scrolling through Tiktok, for example, one might come across videos rating Target’s pride merchandise.
This practice of rebranding is cynically referred to as rainbow capitalism. Many consider this representative of the profit-driven capitalist machine, where corporations only show public support for the LGBTQ+ community when it is financially strategic. During Pride Month, many people are willing to put aside any prejudices they might have held towards large businesses and buy rainbow-colored items to celebrate.
The main critique of rainbow capitalism is that companies do not show support throughout the year. The moment the clock strikes 12:00 a.m. on July 1, any and all support from corporations vanishes. Pride merchandise is either taken down or sold at a much lower price, and corporations revert to their standard social media profile pictures, as though it had been Valentine’s Day or Halloween. Then, for the rest of the year, they don’t mention the LGBTQ+ community at all until Pride Month comes around again.
Maybe the actions of these companies are meant to be a symbol of solidarity, or maybe they are nothing more than a cheap cash grab. Either way, rainbow capitalism is not a good thing. It profits off of a community that is still fighting for rights in the United States while making no effort to help said community. While some companies do donate a percentage of their profits, most do not.
Rainbow capitalism has also led to many people showing support through buying products rather than actual activism. The origins of Pride can be found in the Stonewall Riots occurring over the course of several days, beginning on June 28, 1969, after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn. Corporations ignore these roots, which leads to the erasure of queer oppression. The visibility of Pride Month is incredibly important, but corporations are nothing but exploitative during it.
While rainbow capitalism is pandering, it can still drive social change. Gay couples featured in advertisements and pride merchandise publicly displayed at the front of stores still normalize LGBTQ+ people, even if the motivation is nothing more than corporations attempting to make more money. To some degree, it does propel acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community by pushing the community into the public eye.
However, during June of 2023, there was an obvious decrease in rainbow capitalism, reflecting America’s current attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community. Brands were not changing their logos as they usually do, and Target removed their Pride collection, receiving massive backlash.
For the past decade, corporations have chosen money over their prejudice, marketing to the LGBTQ+ community because they were able to make a profit off of it. However, this past June, the lack of rainbow capitalism was alarming. Though rainbow capitalism is a shallow facsimile of support, the marked lack of it this year indicates a backward shift in the general U.S. attitude toward the LGBTQ+ community. Now, corporations consider it to be too controversial, as well as drawing too much negative attention to be worthwhile. The lack of rainbow capitalism itself is not something bad, but what it indicates is unnerving.
So, is rainbow capitalism bad? Obviously. Companies that only seek to profit off of Pride Month do not truly support the LGBTQ+ community, or else they would be supporting the community consistently, instead of once a year. Their so-called support is flimsy at best, and non-existent at worst. Every year during June, they put on a show of peddling products plastered with pride paraphanelia and attempt to market themselves as accepting and supportive.
Yet, despite the exploitative nature of rainbow capitalism, its absence in June of 2023 was alarming and made it very clear that corporations no longer saw enough value in the revenue they could bring in from the LGBTQ+ community. Will there be a change in June of 2024? Or will corporations continue to do nothing?