Corporate ‘Rainbow Capitalism’ in June is decidedly Not Slay

Photo by Dani Sisson Student Publications

Ahh, June. National Headache and Migraine Awareness Month, National Iced Tea Month and National Homeownership Month. Oh, and, if you could not tell by the rainbows obscenely painted all over every shopping mall, plaza and department store in America, June is also LGBTQIA+ Pride Month.

Believe it or not, it has been almost seven long years since five of nine (straight) Supreme Court justices said it was okay for same-sex couples to get married everywhere in the U.S. And in the years since, the gay agenda has taken the country by storm: from pride flags in windows to rainbow icons on your phone’s homescreen and even the cover of this issue of the paper, it seems like the entire country screams louder and louder each year that “It’s okay that you’re gay!” when, really, we have known this the whole time.

Queer individuals the world over rejoice every June not just because of this landmark Supreme Court decision, but also because what better pastime is there than to dunk on how every company decides to pander to the CommunityTM?

Via an overwhelming and frankly nauseating display of commercialization, corporations year after year commodify a core part of a marginalized group’s identities. Rainbow capitalism is one term for it.

You might have heard the terms “pink capitalism”, “pink-washing” (à la whitewashing or greenwashing) or my personal favorite, “homocapitalism.”

Corporations that engage in this marketing strategy turn the very people they claim to support into markets, ignoring historic struggles for acceptance and the work of countless Black and brown trans* women in creating Pride.

And this work should not go unrecognized. For those unaware, Pride Month celebrates the Stonewall Inn Riots, which took place at the Stonewall Inn in June 1969. We should be honoring the role of aforementioned Black and brown trans* women on the road to acceptance.

Instead, we see rainbow flags in windows, pronoun pins for sale. Worst of all? The corporate social media profile pictures that look as though a unicorn vomited on them. The online LGBTQIA+ community finds this amusing at times, often creating memes and counter-merchandise as an ironic commentary on this phenomenon.

It’s hilarious to see companies yassify their online presence just to swap them back to their straight counterparts the minute the clock hits July 1. The abrupt discontinuity leads many to right- fully consider, where do the motivations of such companies lie? Is it genuine support for the LGBTQIA+ community, or is it just a desire to roll out good PR and make money from a marginalized group?

Some companies make it quite easy to find out.

Take Bethesda, for example: In June 2020, the video game publisher known for famed franchises like DOOM, Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Wolfenstein and more began changing its Twitter profile pictures to a rainbow variant. Each of its regional twitter accounts underwent a yassification… Except for their Russian, Middle Eastern and Turkish accounts. Users online noticed this, and rightfully clowned the company for only being in it for the money where it was “safe” to support.

And Bethesda is not alone by any means — The Guardian in 2021 reported on nine companies that “celebrated” Pride while simultaneously donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to anti-gay politicians. Walmart, Amazon, Home Depot and AT&T poured money into the coffers of Republicans who voted against the Equality Act. Walmart changed its social media presence to be rainbow-themed, and Amazon sets up a special shop for rainbow themed items.

Living under capitalism means that calling for an end to this practice is unfathomable. Annually, these brands consult (read: tokenize) a fraction of the LGBTQIA+ community for marketing initiatives during the month of June. Rainbow capitalism is unfortunately a key source of income for many members of the LGBTQIA+ community, especially those in the media and entertainment business. Does this mean that we must live with this abhorrent tradition? Yes, unfortunately. But we can always demand better from the brands we engage with. To ethically consume from corporations is impossible under capitalism, but the least we can do is ask for year-round support for queer people — in dollars, not themed Instagram posts. We can and should pressure companies to become more inclusive workplaces, hire LGBTQIA+ community members at all levels, partner with queer businesses and stop donating to politicians and organizations who do not support the LGBTQIA+ community. And for companies who hear these demands and do nothing to change their ways, to those who pander to the same community they commodify, we see right through you. We know what you’re doing.