top of page

The Hollow Marketing of Pride: When Rainbows Aren't Enough

Every June, a kaleidoscope of rainbow colors takes over the corporate world. Social media avatars sprout rainbow halos, merchandise aisles brim with Pride-themed apparel, and skyline buildings light up in brilliant LGBTQ+ solidarity. Yet for too many companies, these splashy displays of supposed allyship are little more than a marketing mirage.

Corporate Hypocrisy

The disconnect between performative gestures and substantive action has become impossible to ignore. In 2022, a scathing report found 25 companies that celebrated Pride on their websites also donated to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians [Source]. 

In 2018, McDonald's launched a special "Pride Month" promotion selling rainbow-themed French fries and milkshakes at select U.S. locations, ostensibly to show "the company's support for the LGBTQ community". However, later that year, an analysis by Reuters found that McDonald's had donated over $200,000 to members of the U.S. Congress through its corporate political action committee (PAC) - with nearly two-thirds of those contributions going to legislators with a voting record against LGBTQ+ rights like the proposed Equality Act.

The Equality Act

The Equality Act was landmark federal legislation that aimed to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in areas like employment, housing, education, and public services. Despite strong public support, the bill faced staunch opposition from religious conservatives and was ultimately stalled in the Senate. 

By bankrolling the re-election of lawmakers who actively fought against expanding LGBTQ+ civil rights protections, McDonald's Pride campaign was viewed as a hypocritical and opportunistic ploy to capitalize on the pink dollar without upholding genuine solidarity. As GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis stated, "The arches.... don't go as far as their political dollars".

The Consequences of Hollow Allyship

Such flagrant hypocrisy not only comes across as disingenuous corporate pandering, but actively undermines the LGBTQ+ community's hard-won battles for equal rights, dignity and liberation from discrimination. When companies voice empty support while financially boosting anti-LGBTQ+ agendas, it damages trust and sets back the social progress LGBTQ+ advocates have fought tirelessly to achieve.

The Grim Reality

Beneath the gaudy spectacle of corporate "rainbow capitalism" lies a far more somber reality. According to GLAAD's alarming 2022 research, a mere 25% of LGBTQ+ Americans felt corporations genuinely supported their community [GLAAD]. The numbers paint a stark picture: LGBTQ+ people—especially transgender individuals—continue facing staggering rates of unemployment, homelessness, and lack of access to adequate healthcare. Within this fraught context, companies' hollow proclamations of support ring painfully hollow.

True Allyship in Action

So what separates genuine LGBTQ+ corporate allyship from the facade of "rainbow-washing"? It begins with an unflinching commitment to equality, one that permeates company culture from the CEO down to the assembly line. At software giant Salesforce, targeted recruiting efforts to boost queer hires are complemented by Employee Resource Groups that elevate LGBTQ+ voices. Retail juggernaut Target not only amended its policy to cover transgender healthcare, but donated a remarkable $1.5 million to LGBTQ+ organizations through proceeds from its Pride merchandise [Business Insider]. And Dow Chemical scored a perfect 100 on the Corporate Equality Index for safeguarding LGBTQ+ employees from discrimination while dynamically expanding gender transition guidelines. 

The Path Forward

True solidarity cannot exist in siloed, token efforts. It requires holistic evolution—from non-gendered language in company communications, to prioritizing LGBTQ+ businesses in supply chains, to creating employee mentorship programs that nurture LGBTQ+ talent pipelines. It demands active advocacy at the highest levels, not just empty rhetoric. When corporations put their might behind tangible policies that protect LGBTQ+ rights and combat injustice, they become catalysts for revolutionary social progress that will long outlast the transient "rainbow rush" of June.

For those who sacrificed everything in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality, an empty show of corporate face paint is a cruel mockery of their pain and defiant hope. This Pride month, we don't need more hollow gestures pinkwashing oppression. We need systemic, sustainable change. LGBTQ+ communities worldwide deserve far more than the illusion of solidarity—they deserve the real, lasting embrace of justice and liberation.

To truly honor the spirit of Pride, organizations and individuals must move beyond ephemeral gestures and embrace sustained, multi-faceted efforts to advance LGBTQ+ equality. For corporations, this means enacting concrete policies like providing comprehensive health benefits for LGBTQ+ employees and their families, implementing anti-discrimination protections that safeguard LGBTQ+ workers, and proactively creating leadership pipelines and supportive workplace cultures. Backing up internal inclusion with external advocacy is key - companies can leverage their lobbying power to push for pro-LGBTQ+ legislation at local, state, and federal levels.

For individuals, the most powerful act is to embrace LGBTQ+ friends, colleagues, and neighbors with empathy, respect their identities and chosen names/pronouns, and create an accepting environment. Getting involved through volunteering, donating, or community outreach amplifies impact. Speaking out against injustice, discrimination, and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation/rhetoric when witnessed is vital. Ultimately, authentic Pride isn't contained to a single month - it's a sustained, intentional journey of building a society where LGBTQ+ individuals can live freely as their true selves without fear or constraint.

Supporting the Global LGBTQ+ Community

During Pride month, there are numerous ways we can all do more to support and uplift the LGBTQ+ community around the world:

  1. Educate ourselves - Take the time to learn about the unique struggles, histories, and experiences of LGBTQ+ people globally. Understand the issues they face in different cultural contexts.

  2. Amplify international voices - Highlight LGBTQ+ activists, artists, writers from other countries. Use our platforms to share their stories and perspectives.

  3. Get involved - Support organizations like OutRight Action International, Rainbow Railroad, ILGA World that work to advance LGBTQ+ rights worldwide.

  4. Apply pressure on corporations - For multinationals, ensure they uphold LGBTQ+ non-discrimination policies across all operations, not just selectively.    

  5. Contact policymakers - Advocate for LGBTQ+ rights to be a priority in our nation's foreign policy and humanitarian efforts.

  6. Fight criminalization - Over 70 countries still criminalize same-gender relationships. We must denounce these unjust laws globally.

  7. Support LGBTQ+ asylum seekers - Donate/volunteer with groups that provide resources/sanctuary to those escaping persecution.  

  8. Challenge cultural norms - Use Pride as an opportunity to start difficult but needed conversations about gender and sexuality in our communities.

  9. Celebrate global pioneers - Learn about LGBTQ+ icons from other countries who paved the way for liberation movements.  

  10. Practice intersectional solidarity - Recognize how ethnicity, socioeconomics, disabilities intersect with queer identities worldwide.

Pride itself was born through transnational solidarity and uprising. We must reignite and expand that energy to create positive change for the entire global LGBTQ+ family.



bottom of page