Pink Capitalism is a term that typically refers to the act of corporations trying to paint the picture of support for the LGBTQ+ community while getting as much financial gain from them as possible. The term is synonymous with Rainbow Capitalism, Gay Capitalism, and/or Homocapitalism. Pinkwashing goes hand-in-hand with the economic relationships of pink capitalism. It is the action many take to showcase their support via marketing and political strategies that are aimed at people, entities and products, especially during the month of June. Known as Pride Month, every June, brands unveil both rainbow and pink-themed collections practically roaring their support of the LGBTQ+ during their month. The outrage comes from businesses and groups waving the Pride flag although there’s nothing before Pride month that demonstrates the support they show. Some would even call their support performative. With brands wanting to look progressive, modern, and tolerant given the money involved, it’s no surprise that they see performative allyship as their way forward.
An example of performative allyship, which is defined as making a bare minimum public display of one’s support for marginalized communities in an effort to show that one is on their side, was observed in June 2020 when the unfortunate death of George Floyd occurred. On social media, outrage for the racism-driven killing came from all corners of the globe, it was as if the world only at that moment became acutely aware of what has been happening for centuries in America. There was an outcry about gun violence, especially the trigger-happy behavior of the American police toward black people. With George Floyd’s killing, social media was taken over on what was called #BlackOutTuesday where over 2.2 million black pictures were uploaded to show solidarity and support in light of the murder. The following day, most Instagram feeds were back to normal with the usual food shots, gym flexing shots and of course, the best-life livin’ shots. It’s as if the prior years of gun violence against the black skin didn’t happen. Just like #BlackOutTuesday, each year you can count on the logos of top brands and organizations to be overlaid with the rainbow colors and to offer a deal or two along with “love is love” type of sayings. When July comes, like the snap of a finger, the rainbows and pink-themed decor are gone, right along with the fleeting support of the LGBTQ+ community. For the performative allies, once a social media status voicing their support has been fired off on either Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or TikTok, they hang it up as the point has been made: To be seen demonstrating their online support. For businesses, sometimes the reason they pledge their support is to shield themselves from the backlash they’d receive if their public pledge wasn’t made.
Hand in hand they go: Performative Allyship, Rainbow Capitalism, and Pinkwashing. It bears to ask the question, has the gay rights movement sold out to Capitalism via the concept of Pinkwashing? Companies that declare themselves to be LGBTQ+ allies but act differently once the spotlight isn’t trained on them include the automotive group, Daimler. In June 2021 for their “Mercedes-Benz Pride” campaign, they turned their logo – the famous Mercedes star – into a rainbow-colored one on social media. The visual statement was definitely met with approval from some users, but others thought that the logo change was merely symbolic and the message in the statement was inconsistent with Daimler’s actual actions. It was also criticized that the logo’s colors were not changed in countries in the Middle East. Also on the list are the clothing manufacturers H&M and Levi’s who a few years ago brought out exclusive, colorful garments as part of their “Pride collections” to promote solidarity with alternatively oriented people. However, they were criticized for producing the garments in countries where homosexuality was still illegal until only recently or still is today, for example, Bangladesh and India. Then there’s the Munich-based automotive group BMW who ran a campaign similar to Daimler’s. BMW turned the logo of its Instagram account into rainbow colors to express its solidarity with LGBTQ+ people. This backfired when accusations of pinkwashing were made when the logo was changed in Germany and other countries that embrace gender and sexual freedom but fail to do the same in far less tolerant countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia. According to Commetric, Disney has also been accused of pinkwashing. In 2021, it was reported that “Disney released its Rainbow Disney 2021 collection, put a prominently positioned carousel of LGBTQ+ titles on its homepage, and donated to LGBTQ+ organizations around the world, but many media outlets reported that the company has found itself at the centre of a sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit brought by an executive employee. Other companies facing allegations of pink-washing were Walmart, Amazon, and McDonald’s, which have all donated to members of Congress who voted against the Equality Act, a bill that would ban discrimination in the United States based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
That in a similar manner, “McDonald’s, Walmart, and Amazon were perceived to actually exploit Pride Month as they donate to politicians who voted against the Equality Act. AT&T, Bud Light, General Motors, NBC Universal, and Coca-Cola were also mentioned for trying to make money from the LGBTQ+ community, as all of them have actively funded the lawmakers who promoted hate against trans people.
For example, AT&T was accused of putting on a Pride Twitter banner while donating $56,295 to American senator Mitch McConnell’s 2020 campaign while he was actively blocking the Equality Act. General Motors, on the other hand, was blamed for donating $458,000 to anti-LGBTQ members of Congress and $16,000 to state legislators who sponsored anti-trans bills this year. Even Apple wasn’t immune to Twitter criticism, as users noted that the company is prepping to shut down queer dating apps and that’s the reason why corporations should be kept out of Pride. Some remarked that profit will always get in the way of queer liberation and that 0% of Apple Watch Pride Edition purchase profits are being assigned to an LGBTQ+ charity or any charity in general.” As transgender non-binary activist and artist Az Franco stated, “visibility is great, but human rights, equality, and freedom are better.”