As Pride month begins this June, your social media accounts will start to fill up with rainbow themed advertisements and merchandise. You can order anything, from a themed credit card, to apparel, or even vodka. Companies like Google and Tumblr have also modified their logos. In Los Angeles, Paul Smith Limited (a.k.a. the trendy pink wall in your friends’ profile pictures) underwent a rainbow makeover, courtesy of Instagram, who added the hashtag #KindComments. Similar to the media’s sexualization of queer culture through entertainment and advertisements, I also believe that corporations are commodifying it with their products.
Initially, this “rainbow takeover” seemed comforting. I remember when I first saw a Pride themed Wells Fargo in Castro I thought, “Wow, a major company is supporting me.” It seems crazy, but for a brief moment I wanted to withdraw money from a bank because its marketing appealed to an emotional, and often hidden, part of who I am. However, I now realize that most large companies do not care; they are simply capitalizing on my queer identity.
In this instance, if I had supported Wells Fargo or any other queer marketing scheme, my actions and money would not have supported the LGBTQ+ community. Maybe rainbow merchandising and advertising raises awareness and erases some stigma, but it does not provide concrete aid or insight into the communities’ progress and continued struggles.
Another problem I have with the onset of Pride products is the impermanence. Because retailers typically only carry queer merchandise during June, it has the potential to become trendy. Suddenly, all of your straight friends who used to use “gay” as an insult will want to buy rainbow themed Svedka and Adidas. On one hand, I am all for supportive allies, breaking down the stigma and normalizing queer culture, but I also worry that some people will not understand the significance behind their rainbow t-shirt.
Instead of making an online rainbow banner or paying for a major photo-op to get re-painted, corporations could use their platform and profits to create actual change. Advertisements and merchandise could summarize important queer culture. What if companies incorporated Stonewall or Compton’s Cafeteria stories into their advertisements? Companies could also feature or pay tribute to prominent activists or members of the community that we have lost, like the Orlando victims or countless innocent trans women who are murdered.
Obviously, this side of queerness is not a strong selling point — but it is the truth. While Pride Month is a time for celebration, it should also be a time for remembrance and improvement. If companies are going to commodify and capitalize our culture, at least expand the meaning of the rainbow.
Despite the negative aspects of corporate identity politics, some companies are actually helping the community. Target launched “Take Pride” a few months ago. The campaign removes gender binary terms and themes from its bedding and toys sections, donates fifty percent of profits from Pride themed merchandise to GLSEN and allows customers to use whatever bathroom and fitting room that they feel comfortable with. Luckily, not all companies promote LGBTQ+ marketing gimmicks or fake activism.
Ultimately, be a critical consumer, advocate, and supporter during Pride month. Go ahead and snap a selfie at the rainbow wall this Pride, but maybe accompany your social media post with a personal narrative or a bit of history. And instead of shaming your straight friends for wanting to play along, try encouraging them to make a donation to a LGBTQ+ organization or, alternatively, to support queer artists and creators over major companies. As frustrating as it is to see some companies reduce your queerness to profit by capitalizing on an entire group’s identity and making Pride Month “trendy,” it is also reassuring to know that being LGBTQ+ is more acceptable in today’s world.