The month of June is coloured with colours of solidarity, determination and struggles of the LGBTQ+ community. Pride month is and was, indeed, a month full of people taking pride in who they are and pride parades are a sight to behold. However, this article is not a fairytale painting a happy picture of the month but rather explores its dark side, i.e. rainbow washing.
If you would scroll through the LinkedIn profiles of a big, or as a matter-of-fact, any company during the month of June, it would not be hard to notice that most of them have rainbows slapped on their logos. Isn't it something to be happy about? After all, this is a sign of increasing acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community by society. If the previous two sentences outlined your thought process, then it reinforces the importance of awareness about rainbow washing.
Before starting with rainbow washing, it is important to understand another terminology associated with it that is 'pink money'. Pink money refers to the purchasing power of LGBTQ+ community. The 'pink' here is a reference to the pink triangle which was used as a badge in Nazi concentration camps to identify homosexuals. When the gay rights community became active it took it as a symbol to identify their movement and till date it serves as a strong symbol of their struggles. According to the sources, the LGBT population accounts for 5-10% of the total population. If it were a country, the community could claim to have the fourth-largest GDP in the world, estimated at $4.6 trillion. Now, a lot of corporations can and do go out of their way to monetise this 'pink money'. Here's where rainbow washing comes into the picture.
Rainbow washing refers to the practice of supporting LGBTQ issues in public to gather an audience while having private policies that are detrimental for them. To put it in simple words, corporations put rainbows on their logos, products and icons to tap the LGBTQ+ markets. Though when it comes to issues such as recruiting and helping them concretely, the companies back out.
A survey found that about 50% of people belonging to this group believed being out at work would end up hurting their careers. During pride month, this year, Lego launched its special series titled 'Everybody is awesome' adorned in rainbow colours and priced it at $30, with it being a limited edition. Most other big brands such as Apple came up with products specifically targeted towards this segment intending to donate the proceeds generated through these sales towards organisations working for the betterment of the community. However, the past records tell a different story. A large part of this revenue is never actually spent on the betterment of the community.
Rainbow washing may seem like a pretty marketing tactic or a petty issue but it has a lot of detrimental effects on the existence of pride. The commodification and monetisation of an event like pride end up demeaning the struggles and identity of the community celebrating it. As opposed to being a month of acceptance and love, pride turns into a month of closing business deals and getting traction for your product. A majority of people from the community said that rainbow washing made them feel uncomfortable about their identity. The fact that their coming out or acceptance is being reduced to a marketing tactic makes them feel used.
If business conglomerates actually want to support the cause and fight for the community, they should indeed open up employment opportunities or destigmatize the talk around LGBTQ+ issues. Most of them are just trying to tap into the 'pink money' while the people are left behind. Their economic condition is not robust and at a lot of places, they are not even allowed to enter a shop.
However, looking at the flip side of rainbow washing, the symbolism has helped spread awareness about the issue in the marginalised or backward communities. The advertisements during pride month do provide a lot of opportunities to the people of the community. Although again, the phenomenon is not year-round. Hence, the opportunities end up being more like a company-influencer relationship rather than being a company-employee relationship. As soon as the pride month starts coming to an end, the support and charisma behind these rainbow coloured logos starts fading and so does the love and acceptance bestowed upon the community by the corporates. Life for them returns to normalcy with all its struggles and rocky roads, and the community for them seems long forgotten.
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