What Is Rainbow-Washing and Am I Supporting It?

rainbow washing
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / nancydowd

Rainbow-washing is something to look out for especially during Pride month, as many companies try to profit off of queer dollars while disadvantaging queer people.

Rainbow-washing refers to marketing campaigns used by corporations in an effort to pander to LGBTQ+ communities by demonstrating symbolic support. This manifests in several ways.

  1. Pride-related merchandise lines including rainbow-colored clothing, accessories and more are common especially during Pride month, the month of June.
  2. Logo changes: Some companies change their logo or app design to include the Pride flag in June. 
  3. Pledges to the queer community: whether it’s through social media, the company website, or speeches given by the CEO, statements in support of the queer community are common examples of rainbow-washing. 
  4. Store decorations can also be problematic. Some companies put Pride flags up around their stores and fill the entryway with rainbow balloons only during the month of June. 
  5. Highlighting queer employees only during the month of June can signal rainbow-washing. When companies post about their queer staff members, or use LGBTQ+ models in their content only during June, it can come across as tokenizing the queer community. 

How Rainbow-Washing Hurts the Queer Community

31% of LGBTQ+ people have faced discrimination in the workplace.
31% of LGBTQ+ people have faced discrimination in the workplace.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / mwitt1337)

None of the examples listed above are inherently bad. The problem is that many companies solely speak out and support LGBTQ+ issues when they stand to gain financially. They may use the conversation around LGBTQ+ issues in June to create the impression that they are committed to the queer community. However, they lack consistency in supporitng queer communities throughout the year, making their support seem opportunistic. At the end of June, they wrap it up and continue with business as usual. The problem is that Pride is not only meant to be supported in June. As with any human rights, queer rights and equality are important year-round.

Furthermore, ‘business as usual’ can even mean continuing political, financial and business practices which actively disadvantage LGBTQ+ people. When company messages are not reflected in their actions, they are criticized for rainbow-washing. Here are some examples of how companies hurt the queer community.

  1. Donations to anti-queer political campaigns are common. When companies make money off of Pride month, and then turn around and use that money to support homophobic and transphobic politicians and legislation, this is a prime example of rainbow-washing.
  2. Workplace discrimination is suffered by queer people in any workplace, so it is especially important that companies make an effort to fight for equality. Unfortunately, according to this LinkedIn survey, LGBTQ+ people still do not feel completely safe at work. One in four respondents said they hide their queer identity at work. Of those who are “out”, 25% have been denied promotions and raises because of their queerness. Even worse, over 30% have faced discrimination at work. Some have experienced such bad discrimination they were forced to quit. Because of this, it is extremely important that corporations have clear policies in place which protect LGBTQ+ employees. This may include bias training, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, safe spaces for queer people, and a commitment to more inclusive hiring goals. When companies take part in Pride celebrations but decline to make an effort internally to promote equality and support for queer people, this indicates rainbow-washing. 

Rainbow-Washing Companies

Watch out for corporations that attempt to profit off Pride Month without doing the work.
Watch out for corporations that attempt to profit off Pride Month without doing the work.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / gagnonm1993)

Lots of companies have been criticized for rainbow-washing in the last few years. Prominent examples include:

  1. Walt Disney, known for their rainbow mouse ears and even so-called “Gay Days” at their parks, has donated to multiple homophobic and transphobic congresspeople. Disney’s donation recipients include republicans Senator Ted Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio. Both senators have opposed trans rights, gay marriage and adoptions by queer people. Cruz and Rubio both voted against the Equality Act designed to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in housing, employment, education, public spaces and more. Rubio has even gone so far as to raise money for so-called “conversion therapy.” More recently, Disney came under fire for donating almost $300,000 to supporters of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation, a bill designed to censor schools from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation. The House Bill 1557 goes as far as to require educators to out students to their parents. 
  2. Walmart: Forget their pride line this year. Walmart donated to several anti-queer politicians in 2022, including Sen. Marco Rubio, who opening supported Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill. Walmart also donated to South Carolina’s Sen. Tim Scott, Wyoming’s Rep. Liz Cheney, and Ohio’s Rep. Steve Stivers, all of whom voted against the Equality Act for queer individuals.
  3. Amazon has donated to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Rep. Darin LaHood, both of whom opposed the Equality Act for LGBTQ+ people, as well as the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which notably included trans women. They also financially supported Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio as recently as 2022. This is something to keep in mind in June, when Amazon changes their website and starts spouting speaking out about their so-called allyship. 

How to Fight Rainbow-Washing

Avoid rainbow washing and support companies who truly support the queer community back.
Avoid rainbow washing and support companies who truly support the queer community back.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / naeimasgary)

You can fight rainbow-washing in several ways. 

  1. Pay attention to company policies, lobbying and political donations. If something feels off, look into it.
  2. Do not support corporations that donate to anti-queer causes and politicians. Better yet, try and find companies that actually show up for queer rights year-round, and support them instead. 
  3. Speak up and put the pressure on. You can contact companies and ask them to do better. You can call, email or even send a tweet and tell these corporations they have disappointed you. This has been shown to work. The backlash from Disney’s donations toward politicians sponsoring the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill got Disney to pause all donations in Florida. It took some time, but the CEO broke the silence and issued an apology.
  4. Spread the word about rainbow-washing so that others can follow suit. It’s easy to see a rainbow flag and get excited about a company’s apparent allyship. We must remind those around us that there is still a long way to go.

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