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OPINION: ‘Rainbow capitalism’ has to go

Consumers turn a critical eye to Pride Month ad campaigns and rainbow packaging, demanding concrete action and support for the queer community. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/FLICKR/TED EYTAN

During Pride Month, big brands in the U.S. and worldwide annoy the public with their release of colorful rainbow merchandise and social media logos in pursuit of the pink pound.

A wide range of corporations have been accused of “rainbow capitalism” for their inauthentic marketing campaigns. Rainbow capitalism is the act of corporations targeting the queer community and their supporters in communication strategies to make profits, according to Urban Dictionary.

Burger King Austria’s recent tone-deaf marketing campaign of “top and bottom” Pride Whopper Burgers on June 1, the first day of Pride Month, is a clear example.

Rainbow capitalism is harmful and should be resisted at all costs because exploiting the LGBTQ community for profits is unethical. Brands should introduce all-year-round LGBTQ inclusivity communication plans and consistent corporate policies to make a difference.

Social media platforms are often flooded with special advertisements aimed at the LGBTQ community every June. These activities die down very soon, however, and some companies allegedly act contradictory to what they claim is the “Pride spirit” behind the scenes.

YouTube sports a rainbow-emblazoned logo during Pride Month, yet regularly demonetizes LGBTQ content, according to an investigation conducted in June 2019 by YouTube LGBTQ creators and researchers. They filed a lawsuit against YouTube’s discriminatory behaviors in August 2019.

This is not to mention YouTube running “anti-LGBTQ” advertisements alongside videos of queer creators, as per tweets from 2018.

Walmart sold Pride-themed products in the Pride & Joy section on its website in 2021. However, it donated $30,000 since 2019 to Arkansas lawmakers who helped pass a bill banning access to gender-affirming care for transgender youth, as per the Skimm.

Many companies are inconsistent in their approach, showing support for the LGBTQ community in some countries but not where queer individuals are not as widely supported.

Facebook released its rainbow emoji feature to celebrate Pride Month 2017, yet admittedly hid this feature where homosexuality is illegal or frowned upon, according to its press release on June 5, 2017. This included Russia, Egypt and Palestine. This conflicts with its goal of making the world more open and connected.

Other obvious attempts to milk an opportunity from the LGBTQ community are just plain wrong. Many consumers mistakenly believe they are advocating for the LGBTQ community through their purchase without truly understanding the core values behind each action. 

Instead of protesting for change, consumers could purchase “Proud Whopper,” a limited-edition Burger King product released in 2014. It came with rainbow packaging and a nice feel-good message that read, “We’re all the same.”

The least a brand can do is be an ally always, not during Pride Month only. It is essential for brands to start creating annual communication plans for the LGBTQ community, rather than investing solely for Pride Month advertisements in their June campaign.

The Body Shop, a cosmetics and perfume company, encourages consumers to sign a petition supporting the Equality Act, according to its website. Every signature equates to a $1 donation to the Equality Federation, an advocacy accelerator to support LGBTQ organizations.

Brands could also honor the LGBTQ community through exemplary work policies. Making their image inclusive all-year round is much more meaningful than Pride Month platitudes.

GLEAM, an LGBTQ employee resource group at Microsoft, hosts programs such as cross-corporate LGBTQ networking, discussions with community leaders about gender and sexuality and fundraising for local LGBTQ organizations. 

Its constant advocacy for marginalized groups builds an image entirely different from those constructed by half-hearted Pride promotions, according to Glassdoor.

For many brands, Pride Month might just be another chance to make money, but for some people, it is a fight they fight every day of their life. Rainbow capitalism has to go.