A rainbow flag doesn’t cut it: the case against pinkwashing

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Every October 11, National Coming Out Day, and every June, Pride Month, the rainbow flags come out. While I’m certainly not against celebrating Pride and Coming Out, multinational corporations and governments slapping a rainbow flag on their social media accounts doesn’t really honor the legacy of Pride. Nor does the Human Rights Campaign laundering the images of companies with poor records on workers’ rights and, ironically, human rights. The fact is, these companies do not genuinely care about Queer people, and when supporting us becomes a liability instead of a money-making opportunity, they’ll turn their backs.  

Pride has never been about pandering to queer people while upholding capitalism and committing crimes against humanity. The Stonewall Riot was a protest against police violence towards queer people, because law enforcement has a long, violent history of mistreating those who don’t conform to societal norms of gender and sexuality. These days, we see police squad cars painted rainbow. I can’t think of anything more blatantly disrespectful to the legacy of Stonewall than that.  

Every year, the LGBT rights group Human Rights Campaign releases a Corporate Equality Index of the most queer friendly companies. This list includes Chevron, which helped prop up a repressive dictatorship in Nigeria and spilled oil in Angola, Brazil and Ecuador; and Apple, which exploits cheap, unsafe labor in China. Also on the list is Exxon-Mobil, an oil company that knew about climate change in the 1970s and collaborated with the aforementioned Nigerian dictatorship. Amazon, which has dealt with reports of warehouse and delivery workers having to urinate in bottles due to inadequate breaks and, according to the National Labor Relations Board, violating labor law to crush the unionization effort in Bessemer, Alabama in April, has also made the list. Finally, and most egregiously, Walmart tops the list. Walmart has been accused of exploiting cheap labor in India, Cambodia, Indonesia and Bangladesh to make their clothing, and one in six of Walmart’s Bangladesh factories failed safety tests, leading to fires and collapses such as the Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka in 2013 which killed over 1,100 people. Walmart is also accused of gender discrimination, pricing out small businesses, withholding pay from employees, and illegally crushing labor organizing by intimidating and interrogating workers and forcing employees to attend anti-union lectures. None of this is consistent with the values of Pride.  

Even the companies that prop up the police state and military-industrial complex put Pride logos on their social media accounts every June. These corporations include Axon, which manufactures tasers and drones for police departments, and Raytheon, which manufactures bombs and other weapons for the US military to terrorize people in the Global South. This kind of pinkwashing doesn’t do anything to help queer people. It’s nothing but an effort to pander and launder their images. Plenty of gay and trans people are workers and citizens of the global South, too. Queer people are also more likely to experience police brutality at the hands of companies like Axon. These companies are directly and indirectly harming queer people while using Pride to make them seem less evil. In countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is illegal, these companies do not put Pride logos on their social media accounts, because they do not want to risk losing money.  

Perhaps one of the most striking examples of this involved the Marriott hotel company in 2019. Marriott has prided itself on being one of the more queer-friendly multinationals. Yet, in 2019, Marriott, JP Morgan Chase & Co., and a handful of other multinational corporations at the top of the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index hosted the fascistic Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, nicknamed “the Trump of the tropics”, for an event in New York City. Bolsonaro proudly identifies as a homophobe, has compared gay people to pedophiles, has suggested that he’d rather his child die than be gay, and stated that he would punch a gay couple if he saw them kissing in public. 

Corporations will never truly be allies. Their number one responsibility is to maximize profit. Contrary to the Supreme Court’s opinion, corporations are not people, they do not have feelings, or beliefs, thus, they cannot support gay rights. Pride is revolutionary and intersectional. It’s not about companies using the queer community to brand themselves as good, socially responsible actors. Corporate pride is not Pride, it’s capitalism, and a rainbow doesn’t make it better.