Why “Rainbow Capitalism” Isn’t as Bad as You Think

As Pride month approaches each year, you may notice more and more companies trying to support the LGBTQ+ community. The keyword here is “trying”. Many corporations change to a rainbow logo on June 1st and think nothing further. Everything from toothpaste to insurance companies suddenly are trying to be inclusive. But have they done anything other than making a hollow tweet about “love is love”? Usually not.

Other companies take it a bit further, selling rainbow merchandise in support of Pride. However, this is often seen as an ingenuine attempt at “connecting” with the queer community in favor of making a quick buck. Many LGBTQ+ people look down upon these pride collections with disdain, and that’s fair. But I have a slightly different view on the matter. By no means am I the spokesperson for the entire community, so don’t think I’m trying to speak over people here. I just want to help people see another side of things.

If you’ve been to Target in the past month, you’ve probably seen their pride section. They’ve got items in the classic rainbow as well as lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and genderqueer colors. Target has one of the more inclusive corporate pride collections and donates to GLSEN as well, but many still find the collection disingenuous. People claim that it’s just a cheap attempt to capitalize on queer history, and anyone buying into it is encouraging greedy actions.

Honestly, I think we have bigger fish to fry. Whether or not someone wants to buy a rainbow skirt from Hot Topic is their own business. As long as the company they’re supporting is not actively harming the community, let people have their fun. I’m not going to lie, it’s nice to see representation of my identity in public, especially when I spent my youth getting ridiculed for being proud of who I was. Just five or six years ago, I wouldn’t have dared to dream of a world where I can walk into the mall and see ANY basic pride merchandise, let alone representation of multiple sexualities. And different gender identities? Forget about it.

How important is that for LGBTQ+ youth? I came from an accepting family, and yet the world still made me feel broken and lost. When I came out as bisexual, I lived in a highly conservative area where my peers looked down upon me for daring to be “different”. People scoffed at the notion of same-sex marriage ever being legal. I had a few close friends who were highly supportive, but for the most part, I was mocked.

Now imagine a child who does not have any support at all. I was blessed to have an open-minded family and some loyal friends, but not everyone has that. Some live in hateful households. Some are too scared of the uncertainty of the unknown. Being closeted is lonely, especially when you know you might lose loved ones if you were ever to come out. Seeing the world decked out in rainbows, even for just one month, might provide some solace. The world can seem dark and scary. Pride month, no matter how corporate, can provide light to those who think it will never get better.

Don’t get me wrong. There are exceptions to the rule. Companies can’t just claim to be supportive. I’m wary of any company that has a rainbow logo but doesn’t actively work to support the queer community. Allyship is far more than changing the colors of your Twitter avatar. If you want to be an ally, it takes work. I’m not claiming that any company is inclusive, and I don’t agree with selling pride items without giving back to LGBTQ+ charities. But…I’m not going to turn up my nose if you decide to buy a rainbow bracelet from Five Below. It’s not that big of a deal.

The biggest caveat to this is companies that try to support the community in June but turn around and actively harm the community with their actions. I’m looking at you, AT&T. According to Techbuzz, their company blog, the company is “passionate about accepting people for who they are”. However, data from the National Institute on Money in Politics shows otherwise. AT&T has made many donations to a staggering number of 133 anti-queer politicians. This is not the only company that funds discriminatory legislation behind its rainbow façade, but it is one of the more notable examples.

Long story short, so-called “rainbow capitalism” is usually ingenuine, but not as heinous as we make it out to be. I do believe pride is highly commercialized these days, and we should strive to support small queer-owned businesses as opposed to corporations. If you have the means to buy your pride gear from a creator, please do. However, seeing such abundant representation in public is an important step in the right direction. It spreads awareness and acceptance. We’re far from a perfect society. But growing up queer, I would much rather live in a world where being gay is acknowledged, rather than swept under the rug. Visibility matters, and it could save lives.

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Abigail Stevenson

Abigail Stevenson

I'm a 21 year old writer who hopes to one day travel the world. they/them