What exactly is rainbow capitalism? Here’s how Wikipedia defines it.
“Rainbow capitalism is the involvement of capitalism and consumerism in the LGBT movement. It developed in the 20th and 21st centuries as the LGBT community became more accepted in society and developed sufficient purchasing power.”
So essentially, large corporations marketing specifically to the consumer group of LGBTQIA+ people as a sales tactic. But how do we see this in our everyday? And why can it be problematic?
Some recent examples of rainbow capitalism could be seen in shopfronts earlier this year, for Pride Month (June). Companies leaned into Pride celebrations at a new scale, regardless of their product or target market.
Do the words “___’s Pride Collection” sound familiar? Jaunty website taglines immediately spring to mind. This month, we’re celebrating love in all its forms! Our limited edition Rainbow Collection™ is now available!
That’s not actually from a company, but it might as well be. Well-known brands adopted variations of Pride-themed product lines throughout all of June, with some donating to LGBTQIA+-based organisations or spotlighting queer creators or businesses alongside this.
At face value, this sounds ideal. The queer community receiving recognition and advocacy has long been, and should continue to be, a focus of the Pride movement. So what’s wrong with companies getting on board, and showing their support?
Unfortunately, these Pride Collections™are often only that – money-making schemes for large corporations that aren’t rooted in real activism. Although many of these companies did donate to relevant charity groups and make a more tangible difference, just as many did nothing more than release a range of rainbow-patterned T-shirts.
Thus, the money made from these initiatives is rarely contributing significantly to helping LGBTQIA+ people and communities. Many of these large businesses become performative throughout Pride Month – as though love is love, but only until the 1st of July.
A company might have a limited-edition rainbow logo for the month, but is it making real change?
Last year, them.us found some of the same corporations that were showing off glittery Pride products in June to be bankrolling anti-LGBTQIA+ politicians in the same month. Thankfully, these more extreme examples are the exception. However, this doesn’t erase the misalignment of many companies’ values with the stances they project in order to make a profit.
In fact, it could be argued that Pride Month itself is at its core a product of rainbow capitalism. The concentration of activism into one month a year allows brands to heavily commercialise the movement. Where Pride was once an avenue simply for protest, large-scale advocacy and genuine awareness, companies have often sanitised their LGBTQIA+ focus to be palatable for their greater target market.
The structure of the month, too, is ideal for these kinds of initiatives – come July, brands can, and visibly do, abruptly end their support for Pride.
Conclusively, this is one of the most apparent problems with rainbow capitalism and Pride Month as we know it. Equality can’t be condensed into a month, nor can it be commodified. Activism cannot be bought. Advocacy is not surface level.
Respect has no boundaries, and that’s something companies should really sell.
Factora, J., 2021. These 25 Major Corporations Are Bankrolling Extreme Anti-LGBTQ+ Politicians. [online] Them. Available at: <https://www.them.us/story/25-major-corporations-bankrolling-anti-lgbtq-politicians> [Accessed 27 August 2022].
Leever, D., 2021. Pride Month is over. Goodbye to the Rainbow Capitalist hellscape it has become. [online] MTV. Available at: <https://www.mtv.com.au/news/xd75yj/problem-pride-month-rainbow-capitalism-australia-queer-young-people> [Accessed 27 August 2022].
O’Rourke, B., 2020. Is rainbow capitalism the villain or hero of the gay pride story? – Hatch. [online] Hatch. Available at: <https://hatch.macleay.net/is-rainbow-capitalism-the-villain-or-hero-of-the-gay-pride-story/> [Accessed 27 August 2022].