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Rainbow and Pink Washing

RAINBOW AND PINK WASHING"Rainbow washing" uses LGBT+ rainbow-themed symbolism (the rainbow flag being the most common) in advertising, branding, services, merchandise and/ or social media to supposedly support the LGBT+ community but without active support.


Also referred to as “pinkwashing”, a term used to call out corporations or organisations that use Pride for their own gain/ profit only and/ or give themselves a misleading air of progressiveness, tolerance and allyship. This is not dissimilar to “greenwashing”, when companies claim to be environmentally friendly while still damaging the environment and/ or supporting damaging policies and practices.

Every year, as LGBT+ Pride month approaches, the LGBT+community is besieged by corporate and business logos which burst into rainbow colours. Some argue that this sort of support, sponsorship and partnership increases LGBT+ visibility while also helping to consolidate our rights and presence in a modern world. Others say their participation is simply taking advantage of a free market opportunity, increasing profits without necessarily putting anything back.

For example, if a business increases its net profit by 5% by supporting Pride month – a fashion line or increased paying customers, for example - should keep it for shareholders, invest it in LGBT+ positive initiatives within the business, or give profits back to the LGBT+ community?

Good practice

Some businesses provide meaningful support to the LGBT+ movement, which earns them the cache and credibility to fly the LGBT+ rainbow flag colours, including:

  • Advocating vocally for LGBT+ rights, publicly opposing anti-LGBT+ views and policies, and working to reduce hate and bias
  • Hiring and supporting the advancement of LGBT+ employees year-round and ensuring LGBT+ representation at all levels of the company, especially in leadership
  • Implementing LGBT+ inclusive policies and processes, eg, health insurance and pension rights for same-sex partners
  • Creating opportunities for customers and employees to express their own identities within products, platforms, and services, like the ability to select your own pronouns
  • Spotlighting intersectional identities to boost awareness and action on behalf of the most marginalised people in our society
  • Making year-round investments in frontline LGBT+ groups with financial or in-kind donations, partnerships, or participatory impact campaigns created in collaboration with LGBT+ organisations (to ensure they add real value to the movement)
  • Celebrating Pride Month through events or campaigns that help to achieve tangible and transparent goals for the LGBT+ community with measurable outcomes and asking consumers to take meaningful action beyond buying something

Some companies show a consistent commitment to the LGBT+ community, and not just during Pride month, and you can show your support by purchasing their brands. But we should never be complacent: check out what they do, follow the money, and ask questions if they are not doing what they say or you feel they should.

"Our community organisations have become increasingly corporatised and exploited, with UK Pride parades often dominated by big business sponsors and floats, vote-seeking politicians and state agents such as the police, who brag about their LGBT+ inclusiveness but have not apologised or compensated us for their decades of oppression.

Pride is now capitalism with a pink hue. It has become monetised: we pay to march, the city authorities extort vast charges from the Pride organisers and we are encouraged to buy rainbow-branded merchandise to express our sexual and gender identity. Much of LGBT+ is part of the neoliberal establishment.

Most queers no longer dissent from the values, laws and institutions of mainstream society. They happily settle for equal rights within the existing social order; often uncritically seeking what straights have, no matter how dubious. Increasingly, LGBT+ culture has lost its critical edge. We have been mainstreamed, which on one level is great, but mainstreamed on heterosexual terms. Many of us seem to aspire to little more than an LGBT+ version of straight family life."

Pride has sold its soul to rainbow-branded capitalism | Peter Tatchell | The Guardian | 28 Jun 2019

Stonewall UK Workplace Equality Index

UK Workplace Equality Index | Stonewall
Benchmarking tool for employers to measure their progress on lesbian, gay, bi and trans inclusion in the workplace.

Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG)

It’s not difficult to find companies in the news that don’t do what they should, either legally or morally. Still, they are under increasing pressure today to show how they are generating profits sustainably and responsibly and reflecting political and public concerns about climate change, economic inequality, and social justice. "ESG washing" is a relatively new term coined to describe how companies exaggerate or misrepresent ESG efforts and initiatives, such as diversity, equity and inclusion, to gain favourable support from consumers, employees, and investors, for example. As companies launch their Pride-related promos, it’s important to understand which are genuine attempts at supporting the LBGTQ+ community and what qualifies as rainbow-washing.

Environmental, social, and corporate governance | Wikipedia


LGBTQ+ Pride: Firms accused of 'rainbow-washing' | BBC News | 27 Aug 2022
Genuine Pride or corporate rainbow washing? | Fair Planet | 24 Jun 2022
London Pride 2019: Are businesses taking advantage? | BBC News | 6 Jul 2019
Pride rainbow merchandise is everywhere, but who gets the pot of gold? | The Guardian | 13 Jun 2021
The colorful history — and precarious future — of rainbow washing | Market Place | 28 Jun 2021
Pride has sold its soul to rainbow-branded capitalism | The Guardian | 28 Jun 2019
Don't Let That Rainbow Logo Fool You: These 9 Corporations Donated Millions To Anti-Gay Politicians | Forbes | 24 Jun 2019
The Problem With the 'Rainbow-Washing' of LGBTQ+ Pride | Wired | 21 Jun 2018
Avoid Rainbow Washing: 7 Inspiring Ideas to Build an LGBTQIA+ Friendly Brand | 12 Jun 2022
How LGBTQ Pride Month became a branded holiday | Vox | 25 Jun 2018
Positive Or 'Pinkwashing'? What Do LGBTQ People Think About Pride Products? | Huff Post | 13 Jun 2019
Listerine releases rainbow mouthwash and LGBT people aren’t impressed | Pink News | 23 May 2019
Dear Corporate America, leave our LGBTQ Pride celebrations alone | Mashable | 24 Jun 2017
Parliament fly LGBT rainbow flag for the first time | UK Parliament | 3 Jun 2026
Corporate partnerships are essential to supporting flourishing LGBT communities | Homoculture | 1 Jul 2017
Let’s Stop Buying the LGBT Rainbow | The Daily Beast | 14 Apr 2015
Are British Conservatives Really Pro-LGBT or Just Pinkwashing the Vote? | Vice | 13 Nov 2014
Doritos rainbow LGBT chips spark ugly Twitter spats | CTV News | 18 Sep 2015
GCHQ’s Rainbow Lights: Exploiting Social Issues for Militarism and Imperialism | The Intercept | 18 May 2015
"Pinkwashing": marketing stunt or corporate revolution? | Sydney Morning Herald | 6 Jun 2015
The rise of pride marketing and the curse of ‘pink washing’ | The Conversation | 26 Aug 2014
Homonationalism and Pinkwashing | CLAGS | 25 Sep 2013
Oreo Pride: Rainbow-Stuffed Cookie Sparks Boycott | ABC News | 26 Jun 201

Film clips

Rainbow washing | BBC News World Service | 27 Aug 2022 | 17m 30s
Rainbow capitalism raises questions about corporate commitments and Pride Month's purpose | PBS (USA) | 1 Jul 2021 | 5m 14s
Rainbow washing and the effects on the LGBTQ Community | Matt and Blue | 15 Jun 2021 | 21m 55s
Chick-fil-A ends donations to organizations accused of being anti-LGBTQ | ABC Action News | 18 Nov 2019 | 1m 4s
Pinkwashing: Are Brands Cashing in on LGBTQ+ Pride? | Rown Ellis | 11 Jun 2018 | 5m 40s
Barilla Pasta Slammed for CEO's Anti-LGBT Remarks | Newsy Business | 28 Sep 2013 | 2m 40s

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