Temporary rainbow logos and limited-edition LGBTQ+ merchandise collections that disappear at the end of June have become Pride Month staples for many big and small businesses in recent years.
Although on the surface these companies appear to be celebrating Pride, many discontinue their allyship throughout the rest of the year and some even harm the community by supporting anti-LGBTQ+ organizations and politicians. This supposed allyship often feels disingenuous to the LGBTQ+ community.
“It just feels very performative,” said Brad Windhauser, a gender, sexuality and women’s studies professor. “I get the whole ‘put a rainbow on it and sell it,’ and I’m not put off by that, but it’s like, selling a mug with a rainbow on it doesn’t support me, right? Like do you actively contribute to trans youth organizations? The kind of real vulnerable communities within the queer community.”
Rainbow capitalism involves businesses capitalizing on Pride without actually supporting the LGBTQ+ community personally or monetarily. It allows them to enjoy undeserved publicity and profit, as the month-long celebration is worth around $917 billion to businesses, CBS News reported. To demonstrate true allyship, businesses should actively support the LGBTQ+ community year-round by backing pro-LGBTQ+ politicians and pledging Pride Month merchandise profits to impactful organizations.
“They could donate to LGBT programs in schools,” Windhauser said. “They can donate queer books to Florida. Little things like that, that don’t have to cost them anything. But they make a big difference. They can make it right.”
Some companies that claim to support Pride through merchandise and advertising, including Walmart, McDonald’s and Amazon, also provided financial support to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians. From 2019 to 2020, each company made sizable donations to lawmakers that voted against the Equality Act, which would broaden protections for the LGBTQ+ population, Business Insider reported.
Comcast, headquartered in Philadelphia, hosted its first Pride Summit for employees and launched a new feature highlighting LGBTQ+ programming on Xfinity to celebrate Pride Month this year. However, since 2022, the company has donated $1 million to politicians and lawmakers that support anti-LGBTQ+ bills, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Although not all companies actively harm the LGBTQ+ community through campaign financing or political involvement, their performative antics demonstrate they are taking advantage of Pride only as long as it benefits them.
This June, Target received threats and criticism from conservative activists and media for selling Pride merchandise. In response, Target decided to relocate Pride displays in some of their retail stores and to remove products, like pins and patches from the LGBTQ+ brand Abprallen, from all of their stores and their website, NPR reported.
Additionally, hundreds of Starbucks across the United States, including some in Philadelphia, took down their Pride decorations in the middle of June and are now facing criticism, NPR reported.
Target and Starbucks’ decision to appease critics not only minimized their allyship but proved their initial Pride Month involvement to be capitalistic and ingenuine. When backlash threatened their reputation and earnings, they revoked their support for the LGBTQ+ community.
“I find it very selfish,” said Orlando Irizarry, a senior social work major who is also part of the LGBTQ+ community. “I find it very ignorant. I think they are using it as a token to make money and to make profit off something that’s very important to people like us.”
For the LGBTQ+ community, Pride Month is not an opportunity for profit. It’s an important celebration of unity and progression that genuine allies consistently show their support for as well as a reminder that the fight for legal protection and the right to exist is still ongoing.
There are impactful ways for businesses to celebrate Pride Month and connect with LGBTQ+ customers on a more personal level.
Businesses can support influential organizations that advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, like Athlete Ally, Stonewall UK and the Ruth Ellis Center, Converse, Bombas, Adidas, Apple and A Tribe Called Queer are amongst some businesses that donated part of their 2023 Pride Month profits to LGTBQ+ organizations, USA Today reported.
By donating to pro-LGBTQ+ organizations, companies promote inclusivity and support LGBTQ+ rights for more than just the month of June. Additionally, businesses can launch LGBTQ+ products that have a meaningful impact on the community, during Pride or at any other time throughout the year.
“Supporting LGBTQ community doesn’t just exist during Pride Month,” said Asher Chelder, a sophomore health professions major who is queer and transgender. “It’s great that it’s amplified during Pride Month because that’s part of the reason Pride Month exists is to amplify LGBTQ people, but the support is needed all year round. It doesn’t just stop, everything isn’t just fine and dandy all year. Pride merch doesn’t have to disappear off the shelves the minute Pride month ends.”
A corporation’s commitment to the LGBTQ+ community should always be reflected by their leadership, political involvement and financial beneficiaries. To avoid exploiting Pride, businesses should encourage visibility and inclusion and take meaningful initiatives in public and within their own workforce.
Actions matter more than words. Putting up Pride decorations can be a nice gesture, but it is more impactful when businesses use their resources and platform to advocate for the community and donate to protect LGBTQ+ rights.