Rainbow Capitalism's Malicious Intent
Rainbow capitalism is when businesses incorporate queerness and the LGBTQ+ rights movement into their marketing, products, etc. in order to capitalize off of the purchasing power that queer people have & it is designed to take advantage of the new wave of allyship for queer people.
~ Kashish SinghHappy Pride Month!
In case you forgot through quarantine that we’re officially in June, I’m sure you were reminded by the swells of rainbows that flew to every storefront’s window, advertisement, commercial, Instagram post, Tweet, and products once the calendar read June 1.
This phenomenon of companies taking advantage of the vulnerability of a social justice movement & community is not a new one. Notably, this happened with Breast Cancer Awareness, and the “pinkwashing” that occurred in reference to customers led to believe that their money was going to curing Breast Cancer when in actuality, it wasn’t used for that at all.
Similarly, Rainbow Capitalism is the act of a company selling themselves as an LGBTQ-safe company when in actuality, they are the opposite.
One notable example of this is Gilead, the forward-thinking and innovative pharmaceutical company that makes the pill Truvada for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis: a medication that, when taken once daily, can reduce the risk of HIV from sex by over 90%).
Gilead also prides itself on its sponsorship of New York City Pride.
Diving into the product however, it tells a different story.
Without insurance, PrEP costs $2,110.99 a month. This leaves only those consumers who either have insurance, or have 2K a month that they can spend comfortably.
Gilead Sciences estimated in 2015 that about 75% of men who had filled a PrEP prescription were white, while black men only made up 9% of those prescriptions filled (Abad-Santos).
Sure, some other general pharmaceutical company would be able to make it for less money, but that would require Gilead releasing the patent, which they have no plan to do.
In Gilead’s support & sponsorship of one of the largest and longest-running Pride Celebration, this information begs the question:
Have they been adequately taking care of the community they claim to support?
And while companies can be directly involved with the service or product that they’re selling, others’ use the money from selling their Rainbow-clad products or services towards something harmful for our community, after leading us to believe that they supported our cause & movement.
Most recently, American Airlines changed their profile and cover photo on Twitter to have the LGBTQ+ flag on both. Shortly following, Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) took to Twitter to call out American Airlines on their hypocrisy:
Similarly to Gilead’s not-so-spot-on support, American Airlines brings it to an entirely different level, claiming to support LGBTQ people and our movement, and then donating close to $50,000 to the very person pushing against acts becoming laws that have a direct connection to LGBTQ Americans. How very American of American Airlines - leading us to believe that this company supports our movement, when in reality, their agenda tells us exactly the opposite.
Representative Pramila Jayapal isn’t the only one who took to Twitter to address the issue of Rainbow Capitalism. Some poked fun at the ridiculousness of the repetition of companies’ “support”:
And of course, Lil Nas X made his thoughts known on the issue, wisely telling us to just go straight to the source:
While the act of Rainbow Capitalism still technically gets the message of the LGBTQ community out into mainstream society, it’s a double edged sword; with the sharper side being where the intent behind the action comes from. In the case of Rainbow Capitalism, the intent behind the rainbows comically plastered everywhere is, however directly or indirectly, self-serving and malicious.
So how can companies integrate themselves into our community in a way that serves everybody?
GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis has reported on this very issue saying “companies should do meaningful structural work before they come to the table waving a rainbow flag.” She goes on to explain that companies “cannot just market to our community. [They] have to join the movement, and that’s a social justice movement. [They] need to speak out when there is bad legislation, especially when [the company has] outsized influence” (Willingham).
Joining a movement that you “believe in” and “support” during Pride Month shouldn’t be difficult to support actively outside of Pride Month. Rainbows and quirky t-shirts are wonderful most of the time, but the only reason we can have rainbows, parades, an aesthetic, and a Pride Month is because of the activists that came before us. We have worked so hard to get to where we are now, and we’ve achieved so much, but progress doesn’t mean an end. We’re here to continue the work of our LGBTQ+ ancestors, and if a company wants to participate in the celebration of our lives that we can only have because of activism, then they have to be ready to fully commit to our cause. Not just the Instagrammable content.
We aren’t stopping our movement, and a company that is profiting off of our community, brand, and aesthetic, is a company that needs to support us in our movement, too - even when it’s not “trendy.” Activism and progress isn’t about the trend. It’s about the people.
So do you want to use our rainbow?
Then I hope you’re ready to care about every person represented in that rainbow.
Because that’s what we do here.
And if you’re ready to join us, then welcome to the family - we’d love to have you.
Roll up your sleeves, Alphabet Mafia.
We have work to do.