As June draws to a close, I can breathe a sigh of relief – Pride month is almost over.
No, I’m not a homophobe. In fact I’m bisexual myself, and think Pride is an important and necessary event for the LGBTQ+ community. What I hate about Pride month, though, is how it has been co-opted by every major corporation as yet another marketing opportunity.
In June, every advert on my Facebook feed is emblazoned with rainbows… and followed up by a gaggle of comments from miserable old men announcing they’re planning to boycott whatever product or service is being offered. It’s an exhausting cycle, where visibility means sticking our heads above the parapet time and time again.
Don’t get me wrong: visibility is great. As a bisexual person, the invisibility of my identity is something I struggle with on a regular basis. However, I can’t help taking umbrage at companies putting people like me in the firing line in order to appear inclusive and on topic. If companies are going to brag about supporting Pride, they should also have the decency to moderate comments and protect the actual LGBTQ+ folk viewing their content.
The homophobic backlash to Pride-themed adverts is not the only issue. Many companies fall at the first hurdle, failing to adequately portray the diversity of the community they claim to represent.
American brand Oreo has come under fire for an animated gif posted to its Twitter showing the biscuit’s filling coloured to represent various Pride flags. Although it includes several lesser-known identities such asexual, pansexual and non-binary, many Twitter users have pointed out a pretty glaring omission.
This OREO goes out to everyone celebrating Pride Month. pic.twitter.com/3BIWM78k6j— Oreo Cookie (@Oreo) June 22, 2018
“I’m glad you did something for pride, but you forgot a VERY important letter. L for lesbians, where is the flag for lesbians :(”, commented one disappointed user.
“Let me do your job for you, since using google is apparently very difficult” added another, attaching the distinctive pink and white striped lesbian flag to their tweet.
Now that LGBTQ+ people are, at least to some degree, permitted to be out and proud about our identities, marketing teams have identified us as potential targets for advertising and sales. Targeted inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community by corporations – both during Pride month and beyond – is not about us. It is also not carried out by us hence why missteps like Oreo’s can so easily slip through the net.
Rainbow capitalism is a critical term used to describe the exploitation of the LGBTQ+ community for commercial gain. Examples like Oreo’s tweet show this practice for what it really is.
Obviously as an LGBTQ+ consumer I would prefer to buy from companies with a track record of supporting LGBTQ+ rights. However, I refuse to be moved by these rainbow-hued adverts, even those far more expertly executed than Oreo’s disappointing tweet.
If advertising is not a reliable indicator of a company’s intentions, what is? How does the discerning LGBTQ+ consumer or ally ensure their patronage benefits organisations that actively contribute to the community beyond the odd gif?
On a base level, companies that don’t treat their low-paid workers well will be exploiting LGBTQ+ folks on a daily basis. Amazon may have taught Alexa some Pride-themed facts, but its poor working conditions mean it’s far from achieving meaningful allyship to anyone. Add into this that LGBTQ+ folks are disproportionately affected by poverty, and the picture becomes even bleaker.
Pride month should be two things: a wonderful, joyful celebration of the myriad facets of the LGBTQ+ community, and a protest against the oppressive forces insisting we assimilate into the cisgender, heterosexual mainstream. Corporate participation in Pride assumes that emphasising the former will make us forget the latter – at least for long enough to buy their products. This is not what Pride is about, and it’s our responsibility as LGBTQ+ folk and allies to ensure we remember what June is really for.