Pink capitalism, Pinkwashing and Pride Month

Written by Dunya Simões 

June 1 marks the arrival of Pride Month. Typically known for the parades, the month seeks to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, yet the concept of what Pride Month has become is not as celebratory as we may think. As with other minority groups, the LGBTQ+ community has become a commodification. 

Pride Month has its roots in the 1969 Stonewall riots, where LGBTQ+ patrons at the Stonewall Inn (who were predominantly people of colour) in New York City retaliated against authorities. Police in 1960s America were known to often raid queer-friendly bars – in this instance, it resulted in four days of rioting against the police brutality members of the community endured. A year on, the Christopher Street Liberation Day Umbrella Committee organised the first Pride march, held in New York City. 

Historically, Pride was a blazing political act fighting for tolerance and advancements in queer rights. With commodification, Pride has been stripped away from politics. While we can thankfully celebrate some progress, the fight is far from over. Just last month, the process of banning conversion therapy in England was once again delayed from its first proposal in 2018 under Theresa May. In April, Normunds Kindzulis was burnt to death in a homophobic attack in Latvia. Meanwhile, 69 countries  still criminalise homosexuality.  

Not only is the commercialisation of the LGBTQ+ movement morally incorrect, but it is dangerous – it lulls into the false sense that we, as a society, have achieved general inclusion and a satisfactory standpoint in regards to the queer community.  

A way in which this commercialisation is evident is through pink capitalism, often referred to as rainbow capitalism. Generally understood to be the incorporation of the LGBTQ+ movement to capitalism and the market economy, it is commonly expressed through targeted consumerism. While there are many facets to pink capitalism, the idea that the achievement of symbolic rights – such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage – is used to justify the profiting of the movement. Many feel as though the fight of the LGBTQ+ community has become commercialised and now serves to make capital.  

In 2015, Pride Glasgow began charging attendees £10 for a ‘day pass’.  In response, activists who argued pride demonstrations are not to “make profit off [the LGBTQ+ community]” arranged ‘Free Pride Glasgow’ the following year. Cabana packages were being sold for a staggering $3,000 in New York City Pride 2018 while Madrid’s Orgullo Crítico (Critical Pride) has been held for 15 years as demonstrators felt the parade was transforming into a tourist business and a commodification.  

Pride Month should not be manipulated to be a branded holiday to financially benefit from. Instead, the month should genuinely celebrate sexuality diversity and strive for acceptance for all. It is a month dedicated to those who may have had to masquerade themselves for a part of their lives to feel safe, recognised and listened to, whose experiences and struggles do not serve to fill the pockets of the elite.  

Pinkwashing, coined by Sarah Schulman in her opinion piece for The New York Times, is a key component of pink capitalism. It originally referred to Israel’s political strategy of publicising themselves as a ‘gay-friendly’ liberal state to divert attention away from their human right violations against Palestine. A professor of Law at the world’s apparent ‘gayest city’, Tel Aviv, argues that gay rights have “essentially become a public-relations tool” in Israel.  

The term pinkwashing has been widened to refer to other states as well as corporations misusing queer rights to conceal their malefactions. BP was accused of pinkwashing after launching an ‘LGBT Careers Event’ for Pride Month in 2010, perceived as an attempt to divert from the infamous Deepwater Horizon spill of the same year. These companies’ activism, or lack of, has shown to be empty. If not used as a money-making machine, the LGBTQ+ community seemingly serves to give a misleading image of good morality.  

It is shameful to realise what Pride Month has been shaped to become. Unsurprisingly, states and corporations have found ways to profit off the struggles of others, while manipulating LGBTQ+ activism for their own benefit.  

Instead of mindlessly buying a rainbow tote bag, make this Pride Month meaningful and an opportunity to consider your personal contributions to the LGBTQ+ community. Must you deconstruct any prejudices? Could this be an opportunity to learn more about queer politics, especially intersectionality? Have you ensured that you are creating safe space for friends and family to be who they are?  

Pride parades can be incredibly enjoyable and a chance to celebrate the queer community’s achievements so far, yet it is crucial to remember that for many queer people, their day to day lives are far from a celebration.  

Featured images courtesy of Pixabay. No changes have been made to these images.

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