Rainbow Capitalism & the Harmful Contradiction of Corporate PRIDE Gestures

There have been great strides in supporting the LGBT community in the workplace and through society that deserve a light shed upon them. For example, in 2017, as part of Fortune 500, nondiscrimination policies had been developed for sexual orientation in 91% of the companies and for gender identity in 83% of the companies within the list. This represents the positive impact that companies have adapted toward LGBT inclusivity whether through practices or policies. However, rainbow/pink capitalism and pinkwashing through workforces and corporations have created an empty ‘acceptance’ for the LGTB community. The incorporation of pinkwashing, the LGBT movement, sexual diversity, and gender into the corporate world has created a fake image of advocacy for the rights and well-being of the community. Entering June, which globally is ‘Pride Month’ – the month of LGBT acceptance, integration, and visibility – corporations take it upon themselves to vaguely support the community by adapting it as a marketing opportunity. It is much easier to place a rainbow flag background on any logo than to develop new strategies and frameworks to fit the cause.

For example, Adidas had a special section of its site called the “pride pack” selling rainbow merchandise to honor Pride Month. However, it was one of the major sponsors for the 2018 World Cup in Russia – a nation with anti-LGBT laws and practices which made it unsafe for athletes and fans. This should make consumers and the general public question what these brands and corporations are exactly supporting and where the profits are going. Are companies truly in support of the acceptance, integration, and visibility of the LGBT community?

These empty gestures undermine the intentions of Pride Month and continue to be an essence of barriers the LGBT community faces. However, there are ways that companies, regardless of whether through the month of June or throughout the year, can ‘put their money where their mouth is’ and show consumers and the public their genuine pride and support for the LGBT community. Essentially it is crucial that corporations engage with the LGBT community through the initiation of policy frameworks. These frameworks are intended on outlining the company’s positions and behavior expectations targeting mainly employment. This may be adapted through the use of gender-neutral language in corporate policy (singular they/them pronouns when discussing a hypothetical employee rather than saying he or him/her). This also includes issues such as dress codes and guidelines that are not gender-specific. Instead of offering dress code guidelines specific to only men or only women, the gender-neutral guideline may state that employees are expected to wear appropriate business attire. Policy framework transformation also includes implementing LGBT inclusive policies such as health benefits and healthcare coverage that is more inclusive or such as nondiscrimination policies that protect LGBT people. Whether policy developments or corporate initiatives, there needs to be the space to evolve with the needs of the corporation, society and the employees. Hence, the concept of continuous development is necessary to consider when discussing policy transformation and general corporate initiatives.

Through monitoring and evaluation within any corporation or organization, incorporating the LGBT community and LGBT diversity is essential for LGBT inclusion as well as for corporate development. Therefore, by incorporating LGBT diversity metrics into senior management performance measures and implementing performance measures, companies/organizations can continue to improve their workplace performances. Internal modifications, as part of the responsibilities of corporations to increase LGBT inclusivity and inclusivity practices, create a safe space for employees and customers or consumers. 

In some (if not around half) U.S. states, state law does not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This means that being out as an LGBT individual at work in those states may be grounds for dismissal. Yet, through continuous practices such as diversity training throughout the company (review discrimination/harassment policies, harmful language, etc), fostering inclusive leadership teams, and engaging employees who identify look over diversity and inclusion training materials, a safe workplace environment is consequently developed, with the support of legal or policy changes. The Arab Institute for Women would not be considered as successful support for the LGBT community if it had not been applying such practices into its planning and framework. Supportive organizations, institutes, or corporations function on the basis of addressing the issues of rights, representation, and justice. Having panel discussions and speaking series throughout the years represented by leadership, members, and experts within the field of gender, vulnerable groups, well-being, and the LGBT community has led the Aiw’s practices to be recognized as successful toward awareness of the LGBT community and marginalized groups in the MENA region. This direct representation implemented into an educational scope has led to transparent acts of genuine support far away from pinkwashing capitalism.

Particularly, through merchandise and marketing, a beneficial practice includes having individuals who identify as LGBT involved with planning events or merchandise for pride and taking their input in the planning process. The goal is not to use pride as a path to benefit a business’s financial goal, but rather to emphasize the goal of celebrating Pride Month and continuously showcase the amount of support throughout the entire year. Through such practices, it is important to also address intersectionality in advertising. Hence, including more members of the LGBT community than just white, cisgender, affluent gay men as it is mainly portrayed. Having the LGBT community in the plan designing incorporates hiring LGBT photographers, writers, designers, etc., to highlight the essence of Pride Month and being queer, going beyond the rainbow representation through engaging other symbols, and using wide scopes of coverage and voices to educate and change perspective. Pride month is the perfect timing for brands and corporations to use their platforms and scopes to create a change. But change within the corporate scope also includes an emphasis on where corporate money is put. 

Those advertising pride merchandise and making a profit out of them is simply an empty message when they support other corporations, individuals, or group entities that are anti-LGBT. Great harm os caused when the money given or donated ends up being used against the community in manners that continuously harms their acceptance, integration, visibility, and attainability to rights. 

So ultimate transparency as to where corporate money is taken, allows the consumers and the public to judge for themselves. But transparency also falls into partners of a corporation. The Arab Institute for Women has long-term partners such as HELEM and Mosaic who are civil society groups that not only focus on the rights of all marginalized and vulnerable groups but specifically members of the LGBT community. These partnerships share identified values and lead the path to breaking barriers specifically for women, vulnerable and marginalized groups, and the LGBT community. The values of any corporation or institute are meant to be in line with investors and partners. Hence, if the Arab Institute for Women did not follow its values and those of partners, it would not be capable of continuing its bi-annual journal al-Raida. The research the institute does emphasizes the importance of LGBT inclusivity and integration in areas aside from simply brands and advertising. Al-Raida’s consists of a full published issue and various articles published throughout the years that target LGBT issues within a major scope of interest. Hence, showcasing integration, engagement, and visibility through research, the institute’s public image, and the benefit of the LGBT community. The Institute serves as an example when considering best practices to apply in order to engage the LGBT community in a corporation. However, it is still very important to consider the ground on which the AiW stands – Lebanon. Within the legal limitations within the country, the institute still uses its platforms, the partnership, and funding of embassies and organizations to continuously have LGBT voices heard, have LGBT members through the work itself, and have a safe space (virtual or physical) that sees and embraces the LGBT community.

Following the engagement, it is crucial for corporations to be capable of staying informed on LGBT issues because ultimate support does not end when June ends nor when profits might not appear as desired. This may be implemented through gaining input and updates from internal human resources staff, LGBT organizations, business networks, employee resource groups, media, internal corporate/public/internal affairs staff, and consumers. The general shift in focus from using Pride and LGBT inclusion for only capitalistic benefits may be considered within short-term advancements, however, the true business and social advancements include concrete and efficient developments as those mentioned earlier. There is not merely one department or one individual within a company to create a change, but rather requires the entire entity of the company to be involved. It has never been a one-person job. But the essence of social influence is possible through this integration. It may not only be about what to do and what not to do as a corporate, but rather as consumers, where do we go from here? Do we remain blind to the rhetoric joke capitalism has made onto Pride Month through pinkwashing? Or do we start to educate ourselves and others on the limited change taking place? Is there any change that takes place through June and the rest of the year from corporate?