The month of June rolls around and we begin to see rainbows everywhere – logos, flags, even on promotional sandwiches. It’s supposed to make you, the consumer, aware that this company/business loves the queer community. “Do you see all these rainbows? These mean that we support you!” It has the same sentiment as a straight, cis-gendered (identifying as the gender they were assigned at birth) peri-menopausal white woman screaming ‘YAS QUEEN’ and instantly claiming the first queer man she meets as her ‘gay best friend’ who will inevitably take her shopping and give the best fashion advice. Icky, hmm?
My point here is that Pride was originally a protest – we weren’t allowed (legally or socially) to exist. Here’s a whistle-stop tour of the history: In June 1969, in the earliest hours of the morning of the 28th, chaos descended after American police raided the Stonewall Inn bar to arrest the patrons for their queer or trans status. The following year, 1970, a march was arranged by those same patrons (those who survived) to Central Park. This march continued every year, until it morphed into the Pride month that we have now in 2021. A key figure to remember here is Marsha P. Johnson, a Black drag queen who was one of the front runners during Stonewall. They remained an activist for the entirety of their life, as well as being a sex worker, using the money that they made to rent out a safe space for trans and queer homeless youth to live.
Many people would see the modern day Pride celebrations then as progress – and it is, there has been progress. Basic human rights have been afforded to many in the queer community – to love, to have families, to exist. However, there is so much more that needs to be done to fight the stigma, stereotyping and hate crimes against queer people – and rainbow sandwiches just aren’t going to cut it.
These companies that now seek to profit from the celebration of Pride very often the exact same ones that profiteer from anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation, support politicians who are vocally homophobic or transphobic, or channel money into countries and organisations where queer individuals are punished, imprisoned or even killed for their identities. For example, AT&T, a prominent telecoms company who own an incredible variety of companies, donated almost $2.8 million to anti-LGBTQIA+ politicians. This same company wants you to sign up to HBO (one of the streaming services that they own) and “celebrate Pride all June long” for the low price of $14.99. In the UK, Stonewall make a list of the top 100 businesses for LGBTQIA rights, with identifying qualities spanning from their workplace policies, employee safety and satisfaction and wider community reach. In 2016 and 2017, only two retailers made that list: Asda and the Co-op. In 2018, it was only the Co-op. In 2019, no retailers made the cut. So all of these businesses slapping rainbows on literally anything that could withstand their colourful embrace aren’t exactly doing their upmost to actually represent the people they are monetising.
So, say you’ve seen a product that you want. It has rainbows and Pride, and you simply have to have it. How can you be sure that it isn’t going to support organisations who are actively trying to remove the rights of LGBTQIA+ people all around the world?
- Check who owns the company – is the parent organisation or individual owner known to make donations to bigoted organisations or individuals?
- Find out if a portion of the profit is going to LGBTQIA+ charities – most companies who are going to make donations will state this on the product’s label or webpage
- Look at how ethical the item is – if it was made using sweatshops or through the exploitation of Black, Asian and/or Indigenous people, it can’t be considered representative of LGBTQIA+ values, as we cannot mindfully contribute to the harm other other oppressed groups.
- Do you really need it? – Buying rainbow items at this time of year will only ever encourage other capitalist ventures, actions that harm the environment and a tidal wave of plastic to be released into the world. We need to be conscious of our actions at this environmental crisis point.
Ally, queer, or still figuring it out, one thing is clear: queer exploitation exists in many forms and Pride provides a bountiful capitalist dreamland to do so. Maintaining integrity in a purchase (if it must be made), protesting companies that exploit both BIPOC and queer individuals and keeping in mind the actual reasons for Pride can all make June more bearable for all. Pay attention to the persecutions that exist in your community, your country and your global environment – the hounding of Naomi Osaka, Caitlyn Jenner’s (seemingly masochistic) desire to set up a commission to decide if children are ‘truly trans’ or the fact that LGBTQIA+ youth are twice as likely to self harm and commit suicide than heterosexual/cisgendered youth, as well as being at a higher risk of homelessness (due to familial violence or rejection). Remember those who are forgotten for the rest of the year, and don’t allow commercialisation to overtake the actual reasons for Pride existing. Love to all of you who are not accepted, who are scared, who don’t feel safe in their homes or countries, who aren’t able to be themselves, who don’t understand or know themselves yet, or to those who need love at this time. I see you and you are valued and loved.