Rainbow washing and the exploitation of Pride month by corporations

opinion
July 28, 2022
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

C/O Yoohyun Park, Multimedia Coordinator

The 2SLGBTQIA+ community is celebrated in June but come July, rainbow flags are often quickly shed by their “allies”

By Fatima Sarfraz, Staff Writer 

June starts off colourful, with rainbows plastered over company merchandise and Instagram feeds. Upon opening Subway Surfers, many are pleased to find they are now running through the streets of San Francisco, which have been adorned with Pride flags. Rainbows are the only thing on gamers’ minds as they do their best to collect them on their run to unlock a new prize. 

However, the game now displays the streets of Iceland, without a single pride flag in sight.  

Performative and insincere activism, called “slacktivism”, can be harmful as it gives individuals the impression they are supporting a cause and a community when, in actuality, their efforts do little to support the targeted community and can even perpetuate harm against them. 

Arguably, the worst slacktivists are larger corporations. They appear to be advocating for communities, such as the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, but they are also pushing their own agenda, using seemingly supportive initiatives to bring in a larger, more diverse audience and, in turn, a greater revenue.  

Arguably, the worst slacktivists of all are larger corporations. They appear to be advocating for communities, such as the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, but they are also pushing their own agenda, using seemingly supportive initiatives to bring in a larger, more diverse audience and in turn, a greater revenue. 

Rainbow washing, a form of slacktivism, has become an annual marketing scheme often utilized by large corporations, including American telecommunications company AT&T. AT&T appeared supportive of the Pride movement by adding a rainbow to their logo. However, under their rainbow get-up, that they had so publicly donned, lay the ugly truth: AT&T had donated more than $63,000 to anti-2SLGBTQIA+ state legislation. 

Other forms of rainbow washing could include if a corporation starts slapping the pride flag onto their regular merchandise, temporarily change their logos or launch Pride intiatives during June month without showing sustained support throughout the year.  

While they continue to advocate for companies to actually take action, Dylan Horner and Kendall Gender, members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, voiced their appreciation for the visibility these marketing strategies provide. Horner believes this kind of visibility is especially helpful for individuals who are not completely comfortable with their identity or live in rural areas. Gender says sponsorships from big companies for queer creators are also beneficial as they provide financial backing that can open up new avenues for them.  

As I write this article, I also can’t help but wonder what happens if a child notices their Subway Surfers character only must collect rainbows in June and maybe forms connections with the Pride flags they see around their neighbourhood. Perhaps they even will begin to wonder what these rainbows signify and who they represent. 

The celebrations of this community and their rights should not be seasonal though. This community wants to see a genuine effort being made to include them. Small changes can be implemented within a company to make their operations more inclusive while also simultaneously educating and encourage the rest of team to be strong allies.

The celebrations of this community and their rights should not be seasonal though. This community wants to see a genuine effort being made to include them.

CEO and co-founder of Feminuity, Sarah Saska, proposes several solutions such as setting up data collection tools that are not limited to gender or sexuality. Saska says this helps understand a person’s identity and what they need. 

Rainbow washing corporations only have their best interest in mind. They view Pride month as the perfect opportunity to promote either themselves or their merchandise. Corporations have exploited this community for too long with some even going as far as “donating” thousands, if not millions, to legislations and movements against this community. As true allies, we need to push for genuine actions that support members of the 2SLGBTQIA+.

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