This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots -- the match that lit the fuse on the modern LGBTQ rights movement and the reason why we have Pride parades this time of year. With every Pride month, there is much to celebrate and much work yet to be done for the entire LGBTQ community to achieve full equality. This year, we’re doing the same thing a lot of our queer contemporaries seem to be doing: questioning the corporate branding of LGBTQ Pride.
It may seem like a frivolous thing to waste time worrying over when there are always more pressing concerns, but every June, the corporate branding of Pride, once the most marginalized of events put on by and for some of the most marginalized people in society, becomes more prevalent and potent. This year, it feels as if just about every brand and product added a rainbow to its labeling and called itself a queer ally. But is the rainbow enough? Shouldn’t we expect more?
Of course, companies are solely interested in making more money for themselves, and branding is a tool used to sell a certain image to a certain segment of the consumer population. It shouldn’t be confused with true social or political support.
Still, to see so many brands, corporations, and organizations declare their support and allyship is not a bad thing, no matter how spotty the results. You could even argue that in a capitalist culture, slapping a rainbow on a bottle of mouthwash is evidence of just how far queer people have come in our fight to be recognized and respected. It’s not wrong, however, to expect brands and corporations to do their due diligence and look into the best ways to reach out to the LGBTQ community instead of simply adding more colors to your logo and calling it good. Does the company support its own LGBTQ employees? Will proceeds from the sale of Pride-branded products be donated to LGBTQ organizations? Does the brand see and recognize our lives as queer people?
We’ve struggled with these question ourselves, with Tom coming down on the “We need more than a rainbow” side of the argument and Lorenzo coming down on the “Look how far we’ve come” side. It’s a complicated issue and there’s no real consensus in the LGBTQ community about it.
Any attempt by big business to reach out to us has to be seen as evidence of our growing power. After all, what is power in a consumer culture if not the power to make brands acknowledge you? Now that we have this power, raising our expectations and asking for more than lip service or rainbow logos isn’t just OK; it’s our responsibility.
Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez are the publishers of the “Tom & Lorenzo” site and the authors of the upcoming “Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life.”
Rate the Rainbow
Tom and Lorenzo rank the best and worst of Pride branding. Agree or disagree? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Its Pride product: A video ad showing a father teaching his transgender son how to shave his face was so much more powerful than a rainbow. Gillette earns the highest rating possible for an ad depicting a little-seen slice of queer life.
Its Pride product: Rendering its iconic KVANTING shopping bags in the colors of the rainbow. The effort resulted in a cute, covetable item with 100 percent of the proceeds going to LGBTQ organizations.
Its Pride product: Rainbow-branded mouthwash labeling. This seemed like a bit much even to many members of the LGBTQ community, especially since the company got the colors wrong.
Its Pride product: The clothing retailer released a limp rainbow-themed collection and announced a meager 10 percent of the sale proceeds would be going to charity. Everything about it felt perfunctory.
Its Pride product: After wrapping its corporate logo in the colors of the rainbow, the online video site refused to act against anti-LGBTQ bullying when a gay journalist complained of harassment, proving that its support was less than paper-thin.