Over the past five years, the term "Rainbow Capitalism" has almost been flipped! What started as a colloquialism for the LGBT buying power is now a borderline-insulting parody of minority support and empowerment! When did Pride become a point-of-sale profit maker between the chewing gum and celebrity magazines at Texaco?
As "Pride Month" erupted into my social media and content feeds this week, I thought it would be a good time to get some new pin badges. Initially, I was overwhelmed at the range Amazon and Google shopping was offering me - it felt good to be so spoilt for choice! But I soon noticed the usual details that online charity listings showcase were missing. It turns out these were all ranges from corporate profit-making entities.
Now I'm a business coach - I run small businesses and am very pro profit! I support the right of anyone to operate a business and encourage the inclusion of minority communities when doing so. But there's a time and a place to do this - not during a nationally recognised awareness period!
Overall, I believe people are generally aware of Pride's value. I had thought we had come a long way since Teen-Vogue listed the "Gay Best Friend" 2010's ultimate accessory! LGBT Pride is about the recognition of an often marginalised community - not just a fabulous opportunity to party
The community has spent many years struggling with Pride - both internally and externally. Whether you
associate the ritual and parade with the Stonewall Riots, with the early days of freedom as symbolised in Armistead Maupin's novels, or perhaps with the increasingly condemned/praised (depending on the papers you read) celebrations in Brighton, London & Manchester - the focus always stayed in the community. Even looking at the last 20 years, whilst the internet age has broadened acceptance and embraced diverse cultures - the capitalism angle feels more recent and growing.
The early naughties saw an expansion of gay culture as the internet provided a forum for communities to unify, but outright profiteering was still condemned! 2004 & 2005 bought us "Faceparty's Big Gay Out" - a combination funfair/music festival in London's Finsbury Park (before TikTok, before Facebook, before MySpace, there was Faceparty!). They were criticised at the time for turning gay Pride into a revenue stream - and they were contributing a portion of profits to Stonewall and other LGBT rights organisations. Even today, I remember being at that event (wearing some very questionable white cargo pants with a crazy number of loose and cross straps!) and discussing how the "Pink-Pound" was being tapped for profit. This at the detriment of the many organisations who spent years relying on and supporting the community.
Even as I’m writing this, an American Express ad came on the radio. What started as positivity - a male voice referencing a boyfriend - soon crapped all over itself with the slogan "Rewarding You for Being You". Do they not realise that those who identify as LGBT don't need "rewarding" for it? Or that true acceptance would have been a gay character in the ad because he exists NOT for American Express to preach their own "inclusive" virtues?
I eventually found a few places that sold pins that support the type of organisation I'd like to receive my small contribution (listed at the end). But here's an example of something I found along the way:
The first thing we see is their proudly supporting slogan, followed by their empowering colleagues' video. I absolutely and undoubtedly support the empowerment of all employees. It's great that these employees are supported... But that's not why it's on this page! Diversity and inclusion is a human resources matter and should be displayed on the HR site, and communicated to their staff directly. No, it's on this page so you think how wonderful it is that Sainsbury's is supporting this community. You're supposed to overlook the fact that they have a legal responsibility to do so. You're meant to ignore that diverse and inclusive workforces have a much higher productivity rate, are more profitable, and encourage development. I think it's great that Sainsbury's is inclusive. But I also feel frustrated when I see their promotion of this fact as an entrance to selling "Pride" branded goods for full profit.
Next up, Sainsbury's shows us the dedicated donations towards Comic Relief you can purchase. It mentions how Comic Relief (a registered charity independent of Sainsbury's) supports the LGBTQ+ community and your donation will go towards that.
Next, you see a range of overtly Pride related items, i.e. the rainbow flag. Each of these items produced by a company called Ginger Ray. The products themselves contain this line:
We're proud partners of comic relief, working to provide support to the LGBQT+ community. Sainsbury's has pledged to donate at least £40,000 to comic relief. Comic relief is the operating name of charity projects, a registered charity in England & Wales (326568) and Scotland (SC039730)
But let's break that down.
Sainsbury's partners with Comic Relief - ✓. We knew this
Comic Relief supports LGBTQ+ - ✓. Knew this, though it's not connected
Sainsbury's has pledged to donate 40k - ✓. But they do this anyway. The comic relief partnership has been there since its formation and long before the LGBTQ+ connection existed. If they sold NO pride products, they'd still have this commitment, it just helps that our Pride purchases pad their profits - committing a smaller margin of their balance sheet.
These Ginger Ray items I had to look up - I hadn't heard of the company before. This incorporated entity is a producer of party supplies who turned over more than £13'000'000 for 2019 and again for 2020. (To their credit, their rainbow products are listed as just that on their website, "Rainbow". That said, they are providing these items to a slew of large scale sellers (including Sainsbury's) who do list them as Pride items).
On the same page of "Pride" products are Absolut Vodka (not even the old pride bottles they did around 2012, just the standard), a bottle of wine, a liquor, and five variations of Dreamies cat treats. None of these is in any way Pride or LGBT related. They are not supporting the communities or emblematic (as the rainbow products could be described). They're just profit-making products. In the case of the cat treats and vodka - those are sponsored products, so Sainsbury's is making money just by showing them to people looking for Pride items.
Whilst Sainsbury's appear to be heavily confusing corporate social responsibility for public relations and advertising, it's important to remember they're not doing anything wrong and certainly nothing illegal. Of course, this doesn't protect them from the court of public opinion.
So it's on us. It's on me, and anybody else who wants to show their Pride in a way that supports the Pride communities, to source their rainbows from a seller trying to benefit the communities. (Much of the Ginger Ray range at Sainsbury's I've since spotted at PrettyLittleThing who are donating to SNaP Co for every Pride purchase).
Items I purchased: