Words by: Simone Kealy
When I scroll through Instagram and TikTok during pride month and see all the ads from companies, changing their logos to rainbow, I cannot help but cringe. When I was younger and did not know better, I thought companies acknowledging the queer community was a step in the right direction. Surely it was, especially after decades, even centuries, of discrimination against the LGBTIQ+ community perpetuated by companies and society alike. Little did I realise the insidious nature of businesses donning the rainbow colours of the pride flag. Now, it makes my blood boil.
One of the most important points to remember is that companies are not your friends and they don’t really care about you. What they do care about is profit. Think about it, it is good business to expand your market to encompass the LGBTIQ+ community. If a company throws some rainbow patterns on sneakers, stickers or other paraphernalia, of course they have opened up a new market of —specifically queer — consumers who can buy more products and ultimately make them more money.
Unfortunately, a lot of queer people do actually lap this up. A recent survey found that 66 per cent of queer adults would be likely to “remain loyal to a company or brand they believed to be supportive of the LGBT community.” However, quite often, a lot of the profit that businesses make goes straight back to bigoted politicians or charities that support awful practices such as conversion therapy. With a quick Google search, I found dozens of companies that do just this. In fact, from 2017 to 2018, nine corporations alone donated over $14 million to homophobic and transphobic politicians, including Pfizer (yes, looks like I’ve got a homophobic vaccine in me), FedEx, Home Depot, and Verizon. Yet hypocritically, they all donned pride flags and rainbow merchandise. Wow, what great allies.
Why is it that companies did not plaster rainbows across everything before? Well, in the past 10- 20 years, LGBTIQ+ rights and representation have advanced, and society in general has become more accepting of the queer community. Consequently, it has also become less of a risk for companies to openly support the queer community. Whilst in the past, opening up the market to LGBTIQ+ people would not have garnered as much of a profit as it does today due to the backlash they would’ve received.
However, in current times, to strike a balance between the homosexual and homophobic market, the minute pride month ends, you can count on these so-called pro-LGBTIQ+ companies to remove their rainbow logos faster than a panic buyer snaps up toilet paper from a supermarket shelf. This encapsulates the make-profit-over-everything motive that is really at play here, which does not strike me as good allyship. If society were unfortunate enough to regress in how we viewed queer people, companies would respond accordingly. This would not be because companies simply reflect the views and values of the majority, but because the majority of the population also makes up the majority of consumers. Monkey see, monkey do, regardless of the state of LGBTIQ+ rights.
Capitalism, and by extension the companies that are intertwined within the capitalist society that we live in, will never fully emancipate queer people, along with all other marginalised groups. Even when businesses actually do put their money where their mouth is by donating to LGBTIQ+ charities, introducing queer-friendly company policies, or campaigning to government officials, I’m still quite wary.
Don’t get me wrong, I do think it is important to campaign and make change, but I am sceptical about businesses being the way forward. Besides the fact that support from supposedly pro-LGBTIQ+ companies is already on shaky ground, I’m simply just sceptical of businesses in general, and how they impact society. As long as these companies continue to exploit and underpay their workers along with the environment and their CEOs continue to buy yachts and their sixth mansion in Panama, can they really support the average person, regardless of whether or not they are queer, straight or cisgender? In the famous words of Maya Angelou, “the truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free”.
Ultimately, corporations changing their logos to rainbow is either, if you’re lucky, not actually affecting the real lives of LGBTIQ+ people, or if you’re not so lucky, actively harming the queer community. Put simply, it is an empty gesture only aiming to make more money. These companies do not deserve to use a flag that truly represents inclusion, respect and pride.