The Corporate Rainbow – by Jules Jackson, McKenzie Malone, Anna Truss

At the end of the corporate Pride rainbow lies a darker story to be told

Since 1999 when President Bill Clinton designated June as Pride month in the United States, the surface level social climate has grown to be more widely accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community. Corporations have been quick to pick up on this, adjusting their marketing angle during June to reflect consumers ideals. Similar to the social climate though, this effort appears to be performative when viewed through a narrower lens. At the end of the corporate rainbow is a money trail of donations to politicians who support anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation.

Each member of our group is connected to someone in the LGBTQIA+ community in some capacity, so the way corporations market to the community during Pride Month holds importance in our minds. With the anti-transgender care legislation going around the country during this time, it feels particularly important to us to discuss the way Pride marketing is often performative. We want to draw more attention to the performative activism demonstrated in corporate Pride marketing, especially during this important time.

Each year during June, corporations change their social media profile pictures to include rainbows in support of the LGBTQIA+ community. Some companies release a Pride-themed line of clothing and household items, as well as celebratory uniforms. Others connect with different organizations such as the Trevor Project that support LGBTQIA+ youth. These actions seem to show that these companies are showing support to the LGBTQIA+ community, yet it boils down to these companies appealing to a different demographic. While these actions can be supportive and helpful, they are undercut by the donations to politicians actively working to harm the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly the transgender community.

The consequences of corporate performative activism are more apparent than ever with the anti-transgender healthcare legislation being passed across the country. Representatives who have received donations from rainbow-washed corporations include Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA). McConnell and Rogers both support anti-LGBTQIA+ bills regularly and vote against protections for this minority group. Corporations have also made donations to the Republican party itself, which opposes the decision by Governor Walz to make Minnesota a trans refuge state. Other significant donations have been made to the National Republican Senatorial and Congressional Committees, as well as to Dave McCormick (R-PA) and Steve Scalise (R-LA). Both committees and both politicians actively oppose healthcare for transgender people. 

The support from these corporations of these people and institutions allows them to take dangerous action toward vulnerable members of the population. The LGBTQIA+ community may see these organizations as safe, supportive companies due to their public facing donations and Pride clothing lines. However, these companies’ support of politicians working to harm the LGBTQIA+ community makes them unsafe for this community.

In order to improve this issue, corporate agents would have to value the wellbeing of their consumers over profit motivations. The toll that anti-LGBTQIA+ policies take on human quality of life far outweighs the value of profit. Additionally, consumers should always research the corporations that they choose to support, and make educated decisions on where to spend their money based on the way that different corporations choose to spend the profits they make. However, the way that corporations are structured means that profit will always take precedence over conflicting factors, so this is a difficult problem to propose solutions for without considering a reevaluation of the way that our businesses are structured.

Corporate activism is hypocritical in that certain corporations will market themselves as safe spaces for minority groups while actively undermining them. Surface-level support for LGBTQIA+ people has become much more common in recent years, but on a material, financial level, the American political landscape is still hostile toward LGBTQIA+ people. 

Ultimately, what matters most to corporate figures is their ability to retain profit. This is what motivates corporate donations to Republican politicians, due to the corporate tax breaks that right-leaning politicians often want to enact. This drive to profit overrides any sense of obligation to support minority groups. Corporations seemingly want to have it both ways: friendly relations with the LGBTQIA+ community, while benefiting from the tax breaks that anti-LGBTQIA+ politicians offer.

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