I woke up on June 1 and went to Instagram. I saw all these rainbows on my phone screen and saw lots of organizations using the “love is love” phrase. I thought that it was awesome, and I was happy to see that our society is finally becoming more inclusive towards the LGBTQ+ community. Later that day, I went into a store and saw that it was completely decked out in Pride gear. It seemed a little over the top to me, but I just shrugged it off. I went back on social media later that night, saw a post about rainbow washing and learned about it for the first time.
The definition of rainbow washing is “the act of using or adding rainbow colors and/or imagery to advertising, apparel, accessories, landmarks, et cetera, in order to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ+ equality.” I realized that these companies probably couldn’t care less about the LGBTQ+ community and this was just their next marketing plan to make the most money. There are some organizations that are true allies, but most are just trying to get the most cash they can. Here are three signs that an organization isn’t a true ally:
1. Only talking about the LGBTQ+ community in June
I have something absolutely crazy to tell you. The LGBTQ+ community exists all months of the year, not just in June. Rainbows being all over my social media feed and stores having Pride sections only in June is one of the most performative things I’ve ever seen. Consistency is key and IKEA has shown its support for nearly two decades. IKEA launched a commercial in 1994 called “Dining Room” that included a gay couple. Being gay wasn’t as accepted as it is now, so for a company to put out a commercial like this is huge. They also co-created and support “the UN Standards of Conduct on tackling discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the workplace and in the community.” In addition, in 2021, they adopted the progress flag which “symbolizes the need to be inclusive of the many identities within the LGBTQ+ community.” No company is perfect, but IKEA has demonstrated that they care about the LGBTQ+ community even when it’s not June.
2. How they donate their money and which month(s) they do it
If a large company chooses to donate a whole bunch of money to an LGBTQ+ organization on June 1, that sounds awfully performative to me. Reboot Online conducted a study that found “only 64% of companies with a Pride campaign donated money to LGBTQ causes.” This means that 36% of businesses celebrating Pride didn’t donate anything at all. Of the 64% who did donate, many of those donations were probably performative to make their organization look good so they could get more money. AT&T donated $1 million to the Trevor Project in 2018. They made the announcement on June 1 to kick off Pride Month and show everyone how supportive they are. From 2017 to 2018, AT&T also donated $2,755,000 to a grand total of 193 anti-gay politicians. The Trevor Project donation was just a performative act to make it seem like they care. Businesses should work toward donating a portion of their money to social justice-related issues such as the LGBTQ+ community, and to do it year-round rather than just during one month.
3. Not taking a stance on how they feel about the LGBTQ+ community, but then displaying Pride content in June
Some companies don’t like to take stances on human rights-related issues. I disagree with this choice, but it’s up to the company. What makes me mad is the fact that they won’t take a stance and they avoid talking about the LGBTQ+ community during most of the year because they’re likely scared to, but then they have all the rainbows and Pride gear out in June. I believe that companies need to stop avoiding the elephant in the room, take a stance on human rights issues like these and show people what their company truly stands for. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream has always taken a stance on a variety of human rights issues, and especially the LGBTQ+ community. They have a page on their website discussing their full support of the community and how they are committed to fighting for justice. They truly showed their support in 2017 when they created a company policy saying that there are no same-scoop servings for a period of time in response to Australia not legalizing same-sex marriage. All in all, if companies can’t take a stance on whether or not they support the LGBTQ+ community, they shouldn’t have any Pride content in their organization.
If an organization is making Pride Month about itself, rainbow washing is probably happening. Businesses have turned Pride Month into a way to bring in more cash and it infuriates me. Pride is supposed to be about inclusion and fighting for the LGBTQ+ community. If organizations want to have rainbows and Pride gear in their marketing plans, they need to begin caring about those in the LGBTQ+ community during all times of the year, actually donate and take a full-on stance. If a company can’t do any of those things, they shouldn’t have any Pride content. Pride Month does not seem sincere anymore, but that can change if organizations show that they genuinely care and aren’t just trying to make an extra buck.