Walking down the streets of SoHo shopping district during the month of June, you’ll see several dozen storefronts plastered in rainbow colors. As part of the LGBTQ community, my immediate reaction is, for lack of a better word, pride. I feel represented, wanted, and supported.
As acceptance of queer identities (very) slowly but surely becomes commonplace in the overall American perspective, corporations undoubtedly move with their consumer base toward their political beliefs. This can be a natural phenomena under a capitalist system but upon deeper reflection, it feels exploitative. On the other end of the corporate pride month marketing rainbow is not unequivocal support for queer identities. It is capitalistic exploitation via the monetizing of queer culture and experience.
As a policy student and during this Pride month, I want to inform people how corporation’ support for queer identities can be thinly-veiled, and under the veil is corporate profit and greed.
First, we must explore what Pride is about. Pride commemorates the Stonewall Riots, a rebellion against police attempting to arrest queer people under the archaic sodomy laws in which men (and women) could be arrested if they did not abide by heterosexual, cisgendered norms. At its core, Pride is not about rainbow colors placed on a sock. Pride is about fighting back against a discriminatory system — a system in which corporations have long acted in support — that limits queer expression and rights. Pride is also time to reflect and celebrate the accomplishments the queer community has achieved despite a thriving system against us. Pride is about recentering acceptance as core to our community despite all the pain the queer community faces. Pride has never been about profits.
Corporations do not contribute to the core of the Pride commemoration when they only paint their storefronts, merchandise, and services in rainbow colors. The limited-time offerings of low-quality rainbow T-shirts at higher prices is not an in-depth reflection on the queer experience. It’s a move to use queer symbols as profit. Furthermore, when corporations gain these profits, they seldom put it back into the community that is likely buying their Pride-centric goods and services. Even the corporations that do such a thing, likely by partnering with nonprofits for their Pride campaigns, seldom donate more than 15% of their profits to their partner. This is why Pride and corporations is a largely parasitic relationship – corporations profit off queer culture and its burgeoning mainstream acceptance to then give no true benefit to the queer community.
I recognize that some may say this critique is too harsh. I can acknowledge that the awareness of queer identities and acceptance as social progress is something that corporations actively play a role in. This is simply not enough though. Queer acceptance in all spaces should be a basic human right, and praising corporations for providing an open expression of that acceptance one month out of the year is a diluted accomplishment.
When it comes to Pride campaigns, corporations can take the extra step to acknowledge queer struggle, pain, and history by donating ALL the profits gained from Pride month campaigns back into the queer community through scholarships, non-profit contributions, leftist political campaign donations, and other avenues of economic, social, and political empowerment for the LGBTQ community. Only then can the negative qualities of capitalism be somewhat mitigated to ultimately not exploit the queer experience for corporate profit.
Next time I’m in SoHo, I want to know the places I’m shopping at support my community more than just a rainbow clothing campaign. I want them to support our collective struggle to navigate a heteronormative, homophobic, and transphobic system. I want to know that the money I spend at their stores, on their Pride campaign, is used for my community. If they are going to use queer culture as a design, they must understand queer history and be actively fighting to end the queer struggle.