It’s June. Pride Month has begun, and you know what that means: time for brands to rainbow-ify their Twitter profile pictures. Products paint their packaging with rainbow stripes on the side. Clothing companies release their Pride Collections that vaguely resemble pride flags if you squint hard enough. But does rainbow capitalism fall more in line with performative, empty pandering? Is it a means to represent and support the LGBTQ+ population, or is it the cishet majority playing pretend activist for a cookie and a pat on the back?
Truthfully the situation is nuanced. There’s a difference between a small queer-owned business selling pride bracelets and a fast food chain making a social media post with surface-level lingo from RuPaul’s Drag Race. Slay that tea, hunty! More often than not, when you encounter a discussion about rainbow capitalism, it leans toward the latter scenario. The idea behind Pride Month isn’t competing to manufacture the gayest pair of knee socks; it’s celebrating liberation. When corporations begin their annual rainbow washing and shelves are lined with colors, we’re not wearing rose-colored glasses. So when we say “rainbow capitalism,” what are our most notable qualms with it?
1. Reducing queerness to a cash cow
Companies that only turn on the gay switch during June are often doing so because they know it will garner a crowd, not because they have sincere appreciation for the month’s significance. Think Halloween (also affectionately dubbed Gay Christmas): odds are you won’t find the same haunted house decorations and candy variety packs during St. Paddy’s Day. When July rolls around, it’s time to bring out the American flags for Independence Day and toss out the pride flags. Identities made into commodities. Sure, it’s cool to see your neighbor being an ally and acknowledging your existence with some lawn decorations. A small gesture like that can be validating. The likelihood that it contributes to the battle against oppression for equal rights in any way, however, is slim.
2. Tone deafness
What is rainbow capitalism anyway? Companies brandish vague queer symbolism to increase consumerism without putting in any sort of meaningful, productive change for the communities they supposedly seek to highlight. It takes advantage of marginalized communities’ search for representation and allies’ willingness to help out, whether genuine or self-indulgent. What these aforementioned companies ignore is actual history. Hypocrisy is rampant with figures like Disney and Chick-Fil-A to name a few, both of which are infamous for queerphobia.
This month, Disney+ offers a Pride Collection. Disney+ is a paid streaming service from the get go, and this collection in itself features such programs as Glee, Gravity Falls, and The Owl House. Glee is infamous for being riddled with problems in general; homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, and ableism are lumped in with jokes and mockery. While there are a plethora of identities amongst the students at McKinley High School, the diversity appears to be more of a tactic for brownie points and a goldmine for punchlines.
Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch fought for queer representation in the cartoon but was stopped in his tracks. Hirsch wanted to make Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durland, two frequent side characters, into a couple, and the series heavily hinted at a romantic development between them. Queer coding was as far as the show could get, though, as Disney forbade them from making them a clear couple (as a brief aside, Hirsch stated on Twitter that the relationship is canon, which is vastly different from authors like She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named assigning random marginalized identities to Harry Potter characters with no textual basis). In the season 2 episode of the show, “The Love God,” similar ideas were removed. The original plans were to give the titular character, the Love God himself, a necklace with the transgender symbol and play matchmaker with two lesbians, but the final cut replaces the trans charm with interlocking male and female symbols and features a straight couple. Artists from “The Love God” have posted original storyboards from the episode drawn prior to Disney’s requested changes.
In The Owl House, a relatively recent cartoon with a queer writing team, two of the main protagonists–Luz and Amity–find themselves in a gay relationship and demonstrate explicit romantic affection. The second season in particular includes a now famous fluidly animated kiss as well as statements of the pair as girlfriends. An important detail to note is that this relationship is clearly established on screen in the show rather than an afterthought buried elsewhere. Furthermore, despite the show’s positive reception and high praise, Disney is canceling the show for “not fitting the brand.” The Disney brand in question? Cisgender and heterosexual… unless it’s June, right?
Donations to homophobic and transphobic politicians and causes. Obscurification or outright rejection of LGBTQ+ media representation. Refusal to give jobs to queer people. Using symbolism for the pretty colors and not the substance. Brands that claim to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community yet partake in these actions–publicly known or behind closed doors–reek with hypocrisy. Disney is by no means the only culprit, but it is definitely one of the most widely discussed around Pride Month.
3. Shifting the spotlight
Pride Month is about queer people, history, and culture, not about the corporate sponsors. As such, it’s important to showcase businesses, creators, artists, and the like. Queer-owned, queer-founded, queer-run, all year round. So what does that mean for us and what can we do?
- If you’re able, seek out smaller, local queer businesses to shop at.
- Find queer musicians to listen to, go to their shows, and stream their music.
- Etsy is a great place to seek out queer vendors selling art of all sorts.
- There’s a plethora of resources on companies that keep their counterproductive spending under wraps. Research and stay vigilant to avoid those companies if you can. It’s more than chicken sandwiches.
- Look for reliable charities and nonprofits like the Trevor Project (crisis intervention for LGBTQ+ youth) and True Colors United (combatting queer homelessness).
- Read up on your queer history, and not just Stonewall.
Above all, just don’t be a bigot. Show your acquaintances that you care. Rethink intolerance. Educate and stay educated. Don’t be afraid to embrace your identity and others, even if they seem strange to you. Obviously pride is something to be celebrated all year long, but we get a whole month of extra attention. Let’s take it back. Happy Pride Month to all!