It’s Pride month! You know what that means, just slap a rainbow on your logo and call it a day, right? 

This does seem to be what everyone is doing now. Add some rainbows everywhere, send an all-staff memo saying “we support the LGBTQ2S+ community,” put up a flag for the month and promptly take it all down before July hits.

Rinse and repeat. 

Over the years, Pride month has been integrated into many corporations, but less as a celebration or educational opportunity and more of a corporate checkbox to make themselves look good. 

This phenomenon is called Rainbow Washing. Rainbow Washing refers to the act of adding rainbows and Pride flags to indicate support with minimal or no effort to provide actual support to members of the LGBTQ2S+ community. And as it turns out,  these performative actions can have real profitable gains for many corporations. By appearing like an ally to the LGBTQ2S+ community, a company can widen its market and hike up its sales all month long. 

Rainbow Washing not only creates a false sense of security for those part of the LGBTQ2S+ community, but it can also cause more harm. Many companies use members of the Queer community as faces of campaigns without paying them for their efforts. 

They use the stories of their LGBTQ2S+ staff for marketing as a means to garner falsified trust. They ask members to share their traumas as “learning” for others, and put them on the spot, opening them up to queer-phobia, potential violence and putting their safety at risk.

Lana Patel (she/her) is an Afro-Indo-Carribean, multi talented creator, Trans rights advocate and member of the LGBTQ2S+ community. She currently works in Trans Healthcare and sits on the board of Parivar Bay Area, an organization that serves the queer and Trans South Asian diaspora. She has also unfortunately seen Rainbow Washing first-hand. 

“Rainbow washing is harmful because it's essentially pandering to the LGBTQ community and it's appropriation of our culture for capital consumption,” said Patel in a statement to 5XPress.

“June 1st awakens every corporation that spent the other 11 months to either ignore LGBTQ folks, donate to anti-LGBTQ companies/organizations or do the bare minimum for their LGBTQ employees; to now show their "pride" by being visible allies to our community with merchandise that's covered in rainbow flags but seem to forget about us the rest of the year.” 

Rainbow Washing has been going on for years and if anything, has gotten even more commonplace. 

“It's performative and it's insulting because it took blood, sweat and tears to get to a place where we could proudly wave a PRIDE flag, and these corporations get to profit off of our struggle,” said Patel. 

“If these companies really cared they would donate all sales back to our community to ensure we get true support.”

Real support must take place year round—it doesn’t just start and stop in Pride month. It calls for asking members of the community what they want and need from you as an ally. It calls for uplifting members of the LGBTQ2S+ community and creating actual safe spaces for them to exist as they are. 

Sundeep Singh Boparai-Khalon (he/him) is a Gay Sikh man who is a model, influencer and an LGBTQ activist and Health Care Administrator overseeing the LGBTQ Transgender Program for Northwell Health at New Hyde Park. He says, “you can show up in many other ways for the community, but painting your merchandise with rainbow colours is the least favourite form of showing up for the community.” 

“Show up to places, highlight queer folx making a difference, publically denounce hate crimes targeting the community and find ways to raise and donate to organizations highligting underrepresented communities with multiple intersectionalities. Show up for your queer friends and family. Be their support system not just with words, but with actions and stand up when you see something unlawful. We are all humans who bleed red. We need to function from a humanitarian standpoint not personal biases. Remember, everyone knows and even has a queer person within their social networks so when you stand up for one of us, you stand up for all of us” Boporai adds. 

Patel further added that there is so much more to being an ally.

“People can be better allies by educating themselves on our community. By unlearning negative things they have been taught or heard. They can teach others how to be tolerant and remove assumptions from language or conversation,” said Patel. 

“Being an ally is not a noun or an adjective. Being an ally is a verb, it's an actionable term that means that you stand for, alongside and when we need it in front of us like a shield from our enemies. Be intentional with allyship by using your privilege to open doors and create opportunities for us to thrive beyond being the LGBTQ person you go to PRIDE with.”

So, moral of the story, stop painting a rainbow over the problem. Keep your slacktivism to yourself and unless you’re ready to commit to the real work that needs to happen to create safe spaces for the LGBTQ2S+ community, leave your rainbows at the door and stop exploiting the community. Your performative allyship isn’t needed here.

About the author

Jessie Brar

Jessie Brar (she/her) is a writer, public speaker, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion professional and Mental Health Activist. She graduated from Queen's University with a degree in Psychology and has worked with several notable organisations worldwide to help raise awareness around important social justice topics and advocate for change. She is deeply passionate about her intersectional identities and is committed to being a life-long learner through her work. Check her out on Instagram - @jessieebrar.

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