It’s not a secret that the LGBTQ+ has faced an extremely long and strenuous journey regarding equality. The road that the group continually travels is paved with hate crimes, betrayal, self-denial, and various other guttural pains. That’s why, for many members of the LGBTQ+ and its supporters, the initial acceptance and usage of same-sex celebratory branding and advertising was exciting. However, less than 8 short years after nationwide marriage equality was enacted, brands are overusing and oversimplifying LGBTQ+ content for marketing purposes. In practicing what some call “Rainbow-Washing,” brands have taken a form of allyship and tacked a price tag onto it.
As someone who was born into, and grew up in, one of the least inclusive states for LGBTQ+ in America, I’ve seen my fair share of hatred and resentment for the group. As a child, I wasn’t even aware of what same-sex couples were until age 8. My parents did their best to keep from exposing their children to any positive LGBTQ+ information. In the early 2000s, this was fairly easy for them. For the most part, up until 2015, the more popular media outlets and brands were on my parent’s side. The parental method of burying my head into a “straights only” world and lack of LGBTQ+ media exposure worked pretty effectively, given that very few of my classmates or anyone in my town self-identifying as same-sex.
In my mind, I picture the shift in the tone of conversation regarding LGBTQ+ as a worldwide thermostat. Before 2015, everyone knew that it was risky to change the temperature. The idea that some metaphorical father would be very upset over the change in temperature controlled the narrative around the coverage of the group. Then, all of a sudden, same-sex marriage was legal, and the thermostat was a free game. Anyone and everyone began changing the thermometer, in both hot and cold directions, bringing us to the issue of the overuse of LGBTQ+ content today.
Despite my upbringing, I believe in equal rights and support the LGBTQ+ community with my votes, purchases, and allyship. That being said, I see the issue in companies that were once silent or opposed to equal rights, suddenly coating all their products in rainbows. Diligent.com defines “Rainbow Washing” as “when companies use rainbow colors on logos, products, websites, and more to signal support for the LGBTQ+ community” (Farnham, 2022). They continue to explain that the problem isn’t the colors themselves, or the meaning behind the rainbow. The problem is that companies use these colors to signal that they are “allies” to the LGBTQ+ without taking any actual action to support the group.
It’s an understatement to say that the use of the rainbow and queer identity to sell products has become extremely popular. While this may seem like a good thing, in some instances it is, it only has to do with making more money a lot of the time. Diligent.com reported that buying power for LGBTQ+ supporting companies and products reached $3.7 trillion in 2019 (Farnham, 2022). With numbers like these, it’s easy to see why companies would continue to use the group to garner more revenue. While the use of the group for marketing, branding, and advertising likely results in more representation, it isn’t making real, social changes to enhance the lives of the LGBTQ+.
Without even knowing the full extent of the pain and struggles that LGBTQ+ have been through, it is still incredibly difficult to see their stories being oversimplified and used for monetary gain. The town that I grew up in is still not inclusive to the LGBTQ+, but the well-known chain stores within it still sell rainbow tee shirts during pride month. Every year, without fail, these products end up in the clearance section, teens are still terrified to come out, and the LGBTQ+ community is asked to mute or dull itself in the area where I live. Rainbow-Washing during pride month won’t change these things.
If companies truly want to be allies, they need to use their platforms to showcase the real, grueling challenges that members of this community face. They also need to do so without wrapping them in a pretty, rainbow bow. It is dangerous to continue using this community without advocating for real acceptance, inclusion, and safety for the LGBTQ+. Companies and media outlets should only be marketing themselves as allies if their actions back this identification. Whether it be making donations to known LGBTQ+ foundations or rolling out campaigns that foster real inclusivity, these actions should be the barrier to entry.
- Brands overusing LGBTQ+ Pride Campaigns – by Chloe Atkinson - March 22, 2023