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Over the Rainbow (Washing)

Over the Rainbow (Washing)

With Pride season upon us, we once again are witnessing the annual tradition of corporations and businesses running to hang their rainbow flags to proclaim their performative investment in equality and inclusion for 2SLGTBQIA+ rights.

Unfortunately, many of these measures are hollow at best and actively harmful at worst.

On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn in New York City saw an uprising of racialized trans women and gender non-conforming folks who fought police with bricks and debris. The following year, the first Pride Parade was held to commemorate the uprising and continue the struggle against class and state violence.

The origins of what was then known as the gay liberation movement linked the struggles of queers, feminists, Black people, and the antiwar movement. Decades before the popularization of the intersectionality as a concept (coined by Black feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw) early struggles for queer liberation were envisioned as inextricable from supporting the liberation of all oppressed peoples. Contemporary Pride celebrations mark the progress made but need to continue to honour the roots of Pride by addressing ongoing struggles. 

When inclusive marketing efforts are about virtue signaling for corporate profits, it is rainbow washing.

You might be asking: even if businesses aren’t actively fighting for queer liberation, surely representation helps equality? The answer is no.

Representation doesn’t mean safety. So many of these businesses and corporations that are raking in profits now that they can safely sponsor a Pride party without hurting their bottom lines or taking meaningful political stands. In some cases, they are using those profits to donate to politicians and lawmakers who are actively working against 2SLGTBQIA+ rights.

Look no further than Bud Light, who in 2023 faced far-right conservative backlash after a sponsorship with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Anhueser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth’s statement confirmed, “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.” Forgive Bud Light for accidentally doing something perceived as political! Surely, they only meant to reap the profits from an ad campaign without ruffling any feathers!

How about Amazon’s commitment to employment equity inclusion through their ‘Glamazon’ program. They are apparently “proud of diversity and resilience”, just perhaps less so of their workers who fought against union busting campaigns to organize their workplaces in the face of massive health and safety violations and poverty wages.

What about the massive banks who are so eager to throw rainbow versions of their logos on every major Pride event? Rainbow dollars work as well as other currency, particularly when the multinationals are invested in unethical enterprises that contribute to environmental degradations and imperialist violence through weapons manufacturers. 

So, this Pride season we celebrate the gains that 2SLGBTQIA+ folks have made and continue to focus on the struggles that we are still trying to achieve and the way those struggles are intertwined with others. We also reject empty rainbow washing that does nothing for queer liberation and hold states, politicians, and corporations accountable for their instrumentalization of 2SLGBTQIA+ rights.

Happy Pride!

About the writer

Morgan Oddie

Morgan (they/them) is a labour activist and academic based in Katorokwi/Kingston. While their PhD thesis was broadly on the cultural politics of kink, they are also interested in SFF fiction, working class history and politics, and revolutionary socialism. They also like to consensually beat up humans. Sometimes this happens in the MMA circuit.

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