This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a series of violent confrontations between gay rights activists and the New York City Police which became a catalyst for the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. At its golden year, it’s only natural to think that the essence of Pride Month has indeed seeped to the core. Such an assumption, however, is wrong.
On the individual level, the recognition of LGBTQ+ rights may be hard to pinpoint. But on a larger scale, say, corporations, it is a different story. Companies like Nike, Walmart, Jack Daniels, H&M, and Coca Cola, among others, claim that they are ‘pushing’ for more inclusivity through the products they sell in the market. Painting their shoes, clothes, and drinks after the colors of the pride flag, a popular term has emerged in social media for this type of corporate behavior— rainbow capitalism.
There is no mistaking that rainbow capitalism contributes to the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community. When before they would feel ignored by society, today there are more avenues for them to identify and express themselves. When before a huge portion of the population was unaware, now conventions are being broken and people are beginning to recognize the meaning of rainbow colors.
However, this visibility has come to the expense of consumerism. To an extent, people are being led to think that they must buy these products just to show their support. More importantly, it raises the question of whether corporations are truly pushing for LGBTQ+ rights or are only taking advantage of Pride Month as a way of profiteering.
Reducing the essence of the movement to mere Pride Doritos or rainbow Burger King whoppers, for instance, overshadows the real struggles of the LGBTQ+ community. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), 74 countries around the world continue to regard LGBT relationships as illegal. Being gay or bisexual is also punishable by death in 13 countries. Even in nations where homosexuality and same-sex unions are legal, the LGBTQ+ community continues to face discrimination in the workplace and in public places, among others.
The fact that these struggles continue despite massive publicity from corporations proves just how the empathy promoted by rainbow capitalism is misplaced, if not, absent.
To further prove a point, it is hypocritical of corporations like Nike, Walmart, and Jack Daniels to express support for Pride Month when these are the same entities who invest in private prisons and slave labor. While applauded in public for their rainbow products, these corporate giants are at the same time ignoring the high rate of substance abuse among the LGBTQ+ community— a palpable proof that rainbow capitalism is an empty gesture.
As the victim of a recent homophobic assault said, “My persisting anger is directed not towards the idiots on the bus but the reduction of my battered face to cheap clickbait.” The opportunistic nature of capitalism has revealed itself. The challenge now lies in extending beyond the rainbow— in truly recognizing the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community and in going the extra mile so that celebrating Pride Month would mean genuine empowerment rather than mere commercialization.