The Business of Rainbows: How Capitalism is Buying Out the Pride Movement

The world’s all rainbows. That’s what it feels like as a never-ending list of products dipped in the colours of Pride- claiming to be in support of, and for, the queer community, greets you on every e-commerce website today. As you click on ‘Buy Now’ on a product you like -thousands of products and services ranging from clothing and accessories all the way to filters- the Pride movement shrinks, shedding its essence- product by product, minute by minute.

‘Rainbow Capitalism’ is the phrase often attributed to the phenomenon observed above. It involves incorporating the soaring Pride movement into the market economy. Thousands of multinational companies sell products and earn profits by capitalising on the ‘queer awareness’ wave that seems to be everywhere these days. This is not only making the entire Pride movement very elitist, but it’s also trivialising the motive at the very heart of the movement- the liberation of the oppressed queer community. The ‘business of Pride’ is increasing every second. The movement has been co-opted by every corporation- ranging from sponsorships of Pride events to rainbow themed products and accessories- none of them seem to miss an opportunity to tick off another point on their corporate social responsibility checklist and create goodwill in the eyes of their customers. The Pride movement has strayed far from its roots- what was once a political protest for freedom and equality, has now been reduced to the mere act of queer merchandise purchasing by the upper-class elite. A consumer report by Nielsen found that “In aggregate, LGBT households spent an average of $4,135 at retail stores in 2014 — 7% more than non-LGBT consumers”. This significant rise in what is known as the ‘Pink money’, i.e. purchases done for services and products that cater to the queer community, is problematic, in the sense that it deludes people into buying products from corporations that aren’t necessarily allies of the movement and don’t practice acceptance in their own workspaces.

In June 2018, Amazon received a backlash from its own employees towards the Pride posters put up in its office. The posters were defamed and the employees belonging to the queer community within the company felt unsafe, even though the company had claimed to be a safe space for these very employees. What is worth noting is that during the same time-period, the company released a new feature in its top grossing product, Alexa, that allowed it to speak out facts related to the Pride movement in the name of ‘awareness’. This step hyped up the product in the market to an extent that the product reached sales of over 50 million pieces till August 2018. However, the company had still failed to make its office a safe space for its own employees. This act of churning out profits by selling the idea of equality to customers isn’t unique to the Pride movement, several counter cultures have fallen prey to this kind of rapid commercialisation, this is an increasingly worrying trend often believed to be one of major downsides of a capitalistic society.

The problem of capitalising on the awareness regarding this movement is further accentuated when it is not being accompanied by change. Social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram provide services of rainbow filters that are primarily aimed at gaining popularity among the queer community and thus, increasing their own users. Such shallow acts dilute the issue raised by the movement as they create an illusion of equality without providing opportunities.  Most of the queer community still faces issues of unemployment, low wages, no housing, hostility, and a lack of societal acceptance. How beneficial is this capitalised awareness if it doesn’t drive towards change? According to reports, the average wage of a transgender worker drops by 60% after the transition. Another study from IZA World of Labour, an economic research institute, suggested that gay men, even today, earn 9% less than their straight counterparts. It is evident that the capitalisation of the pride movement largely affects the queer community and its allies. It derails the pride movement from acknowledging the issues of LGTB+ community and finding solutions for it by transforming it into a mere fad of rainbows, glitters and loud music.

The Pride movement, in its essence, is a fight against oppression. Earlier, it was against the homophobic public for a place in the society, and now, it is fight against capitalism. Grassroots methods of awareness like education, fundraisers, and activism have proved to be more successful in creating an equal environment for the queer community as compared to selling products with rainbows slapped on them. With the growing participation of people in Pride events, the need is for a responsible analysis of who gets to be the face of the movement- the issues faced by the community and its solidarity, or a multinational corporation with its products dipped in rainbows.

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Arpita is a first year undergraduate at Ashoka, studying as a prospective Political Science major. Her interests lie in politics, pop culture and everything in between. She considers words to have the potential of driving change and aims to do the same with what she writes.

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