Has marketing around Pride month to capture LGBTQ+ dollars gone too far? (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

There is a lot to be happy about during Pride season. Many are exceptionally pleased considering both pioneering trans activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are soon to be immortalized with a monument in New York City. What’s even more exciting is at the end of the month, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

Each of these moments signifies the progress the community continues to make. However, it also signals an even more complicated discussion about the ways in which companies and brands are using the movement as a simplistic marketing ploy that has nothing truly to do with diversity, inclusion or acceptance of any kind. 

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Now, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that certain companies have used the month of June to truly celebrate Pride. Companies like Nike have celebrated the LGBTQ+ community since 2012, while others like Target first launched their clothing and other Pride related merchandise in stores in 2015. Each company stated that the decision to do so was genuinely created as a way to remind LGBTQ+ individuals that they are seen and valued.

Except, now, it feels like EVERY company is trying to peddle their rainbow decorated goods and wares onto us all and it leads me to wonder, are companies truly invested in the liberties of LGBTQ+ or only pandering to the money they know we possess?

Twin boys show their support for rainbow pride. (Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash)

In 2018, the gay social network, Hornet published data that showed that the LGBTQ+ market has a buying power of over $1 trillion. While I am sure those figures don’t speak for the entire community, this study does shed light on why many of these companies are vying for our attention. It should be noted that the LGBTQ+ community is said to be the fastest growing population being driven by younger generations where 20% of us are millennials and 31% are centennials. Companies like DSW and J. Crew understand the buying power that the queer community has and it makes absolute sense that they would capitalize on it.

The problem is that many of these companies only show up for LGBTQ+ people during the month of June. The idea of rainbow capitalism has and continues to hurt LGBTQ+ people as it is only interested in our buying power and not protecting our livelihood. The queer community is seen more as a pot of gold rather a group of individuals who continue to struggle to avoid being disenfranchised.

No one has really addressed the ways in which these businesses also continue to feed into the oppression that marginalizes us including our experience outside of their stores, specifically when companies like Nike and H&M have been called out for their unethical modern day slavery business practices.

The pandering done to LGBTQ+ people during this month ignores the larger conversation about how the community as a whole, specifically Black and Brown LGBTQ+ people are often underemployed, incarcerated and experience higher rates of police brutality.

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I am constantly questioning what companies and their marketing divisions truly mean when they launch pride merchandise. I wonder if they understand what the rainbow has signified for LGBTQ+ people since its inception in 1978. Do they get what each color represents? And, what exactly does Pride mean to them, especially when they haven’t all been transparent about their hiring practices as in would they even consider hiring a trans woman of color to lead said marketing department.

L.A. Pride Parade on June 9, 2013 in West Hollywood, California.(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

The idea that these companies slap a rainbow on a few things and tell us, ‘go wear this to be loud and proud’ doesn’t truly take into consideration the struggles we might have while wearing it. Look at the astronomical rate in which trans women of color have been murdered  and all the ways in which this administration is working to take our rights way. Wearing a rainbow colored anything could be the Scarlett letter leading to your brutal death.

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While I have no problem with companies marketing their products to me specifically when I know and trust what they stand for (I buy my rainbow Apple band yearly and yes, I know they too are problematic), what I do have is a problem with how many of these companies come up short when we start talking about real, tangible explanations of how they center visibility and inclusion 365 days a year. 

“Wearing a rainbow colored anything could be the Scarlett letter leading to your brutal death.”

I’m thinking about the ways in which these companies address the issues that the queer community faces during the months before and after June. How they are working to help and protect the very people who they are marking their pride products towards. Considering that I am always told to purchase something with a rainbow on it to represent my community, I need to know where these profits are going and how said profits will help me as an LGBTQ+ person in my time of need.

I want these companies creating safe spaces for their workers to show and wear their pride without the fear of retaliation,” said DoctorJon (Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash)
I want to know how these companies have taken action to make sure that the LGBTQ+ people who work for them not only feel safe, but how they will convince their LGBTQ+ customers that they are truly vested adding to their quality of life. I need for these companies to not only create products that represent part of my identity, but to make sure that said LGBTQ+ individual who chooses to wear said pride item won’t be fired for doing so.
I want them to train their employees how not to tweet or say harmful things on the social media about the community. More than anything, I’d like for more of these companies donate money to the causes that help protect people like me who truly need the most support.

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It’s truly about understanding the pain and the emotions that caused Marsha and Sylvia to riot 50 years ago at Stonewall. Doing so, they will perhaps behind to comprehend why so many of us are still angry today and how a pride bandana won’t fix it. 

Yes, while pride month is a great time to celebrate the history of the movement, it’s also an amazing opportunity for companies to take a breath and fully understand the greater implications beyond the month. Long after the rainbow shoes, socks and shirts begin to fade, we’ll still be here, queer and vying to be treated fairly, not just in the month of June, but all year long.


Jon is an educator, writer and speaker who examines the intersections of gender, race, media and pop culture. You can following them on social media by using the handle @DoctorJonPaul.