By Contributing Writer, Ayla David: LIM student and IFD Intern
June is Pride month! Pride started in the 1970s after the Stonewall Riots of 1969 when policemen raided a known gay club at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City. Officers forced customers and workers out of the bar and into waiting vehicles when patrons and onlookers decided to fight back. The riots lasted six days, and the uproar jump started the Pride Movement. The following year, the first official Pride march was organized to take place in Central Park to raise awareness. From these roots, Pride has grown and changed shape into the vibrant celebration it is today.
However, in the fashion world and beyond, there is one factor trying to pull focus away from the people who fought so hard to amplify their voices during Pride. It is called rainbow washing. The rainbow flag is the symbol for gay pride, and just like pink is for breast cancer and green is for environmental sustainability, big corporations have started using what the rainbow symbolizes to make money off the cause instead of investing in it. These companies use the rainbow Pride colors to suggest to consumers that they support LGBTQIA+ causes without putting any real money or effort into creating better outcomes for queer communities. Often they pay lip service to Pride for the month of June, while continuing to underpay LGBTQIA+ talent or enabling work environments that are hostile to queer employees.
That means a lot of big corporations are all talk and no action. Pretty sneaky right? What they want is “pink money”—the money the LGBTQIA+ community spends as consumers, which totals $3.7 trillion dollars, according to Forbes which also notes that “upwards of 90% of gay people support businesses who target pink money.” The math for these statistics is simple. For one month every year, big corporations create a line of Pride clothing, featuring the Pride colors and some queer couples and then reap the profits without giving back or doing the work.
Companies profiting from rainbow washing and pink money should incorporate LGBTQIA+ designs and marketing efforts year-round and give a percentage of their profit to LGBTQIA+ organizations to help the cause. And there are a few things we can do as consumers to keep our dollars working for the cause.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when shopping, whether for Pride or year round, when you want to make your money count for the LGTBQIA+ community. If a company has a new Pride collection out, ask yourself:
*Are they only launching campaigns and collections like this during Pride?
*How is the queer community reflected in their marketing? Are they absent? Positively represented? Do you see LGBTQIA+ models in their marketing year round?
*Is inclusivity something they champion outside of June?
*If the product features rainbows, making money off of what Pride stands for, is a portion of the profits being channeled back to LGBTQIA+ non-profits and other efforts?
*Do some light Googling. Does the company have a track record of not putting the work in—i.e. complaints in the news from LGBTQIA+ employees, or a track record of donating to anti-LGBTQIA+ legislators or causes?
What you’re really working out here is whether the mission matches the message. Avoid these red flags. As a best practice, or simply when in doubt, opt for brands that are LGBTQIA+-owned as well as brands that actively give to organizations year-round. These brands are usually very transparent with their missions and initiatives, and dedicated to keeping the LGBTQIA+ community empowered.
Some brands to start with include:
Started as a zine titled “Fight the Power” by Brooklyn artist J. Morrison, Homocats now includes a line of screenprinted apparel along with books, zines, and prints. They “aim to fight phobias, propose equal rights, combat cultural stereotypes, question social norms, and make the world a better place.”
Devious Designz founder Duante Brown, is a community organizer, board member of both National LGBTQIA+ organizations, and is a “Legend” in the House and Ballroom community. His designs shine a light on the unique experiences of the LGBTQIA+ Black community.
Owners and best friends Alex and Abel are both in their ninth year of transition from female to male. Their designs are an alternative way for LGBTQIA+ community members and supporters to stay visible without the traditional rainbow look.
Pride month has always been an impactful, important, and meaningful movement. As consumers, we can put the pressure on corporations to refocus on the empowerment of the LGBTQIA+ community, rather than money-making empty gestures. Just like the sustainability movement, be mindful of where you buy from and seek out brands you are proud of. You can be a force to help create change in our society!