Rainbow-Washing: Chasing the Pink Dollar

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This March in Sydney, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade takes place back-to-back with World Pride – the biggest queer party on earth. The world will be watching. And brands want in.

Enter rainbow-washing, the act of using or adding rainbow colours and/or imagery to branding in order to indicate support for LGBTQIA+ equality, without any active support to back this up. A phenomenon proves that after decades of desperately fighting for our rights, it’s finally profitable to be gay.

This really speaks to the crux of how rainbow-washing has become so prevalent today. During pride festivities around the globe, these companies come out in droves to stand alongside celebrating queer people, boost their corporate CSR and sell merch. A noble cause with some reasonable perks.

The issues arise when the companies that shout Love is Love touting rainbow flags for these few weeks of the year, don’t back it up, or worse, actively contradict themselves, throughout the rest of the calendar. Rainbow-washing is a complicated issue as, on one hand, visible support of the LGBTQIA+ is a crucial part of the fight for equality for this community. However, on the other, plastering a rainbow over a brand’s logo is no longer the brave act of social justice that it once might have been. Queer people expect and deserve more of the brands they engage with.

In today’s world of prioritising social responsibility and hyper-accessible information, the public is able to more critically evaluate the brands that come out in support of the LGBTQIA+ community and, where appropriate, hold them accountable. There aren’t many groups in Australia who can make more noise than angry queers.

This has made it far easier to distinguish companies who genuinely hold gender and sexual equality as a valued cornerstone and those who are jumping on a trend to fill month on their socials or capture the tantalising Pink Dollar. There is a history of brands such as Toyota and Amazon who have been visible in the sea of rainbow only to be discovered simultaneously donating to anti-LGBTQIA+ agendas. This is not only damaging to the community they claim to support but can also have a detrimental impact on the brand itself who will invariably be called out as hypocritical and could face more scrutiny than if they had done nothing at all.

On the flip side to this, not every rainbow-clad brand warrants instant gay condemnation. There are a number of brands engaging with Sydney World Pride who do so in a genuine way that extends to partnerships with the queer community beyond this month of festivities. Brands such as Levi’s, American Express, BWS and Absolut are examples in Australia who staunchly support the queer community year-round and have let this push for equality seep into the intrinsic values of their organisations. These brands are worth celebrating, in the same way that they celebrate, and should indeed be included in the never-ending stream of parties, activities and events as allies and important members of the community.

This level of engagement helps the brands to develop an understanding of what pride really is and from where it was born. Not just a celebration but an opportunity to continue to demand the equal rights that have been denied to queer people for so long. And continue to be denied in so many ways to this day.

For brands, it is important to ask, why? What is the reason for deciding to engage with the queer community and is there an appetite to do so in a meaningful way? For if not, the Rainbow Mafia will know and it could end up doing more harm than good. If so, there are a number of resources, such as Equality Australia, The Pride Foundation and Minus 18 who can help you out with the rules of engagement.

For the people, it is important to remain critical when supporting brands that claim to support The GaysTM, and understand the difference between rainbow-washing and true allyship.

When the festivities are over and the glitter has been swept from the streets, these partnerships carry on, to ensure that come next year, the message that Love Is Love will ring louder and stronger and there will be even more to celebrate.


Photo by Yoav Hornung on Unsplash