Pinkwashing: Rainbow Capitalism & Homonationalism

June is pride month — an honoring for the Stonewall riots and its contribution to catalyzing the LGBTQ movement, and an unapologetic celebration of being queer. Now, this concept is all cupcakes and sprinkles until the pitfalls of the movement are exposed.

Rainbow Capitalism

Also known as Pink Capitalism, Rainbow Capitalism is the commodification of the pride movement, such as using or selling popular symbols like the rainbow flag, so that businesses can increase their market and revenue.

From the recent “Make America Gay Again” line by American Apparel to Target’s #TakePride merchandise, many young Americans have grown of age in a world where pride and queer identity are something to be bought. When corporations support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, they are really capitalizing on another unnamed identity: consumer. Corporate sponsors hope that when LGBTQ persons and allies embrace a spectrum of sexuality, they will also embrace their identities as patrons of Netflix, T-Mobile, or Whole Foods.

Annie Utterback | The Establishment

While seemingly harmless, Rainbow Capitalism is inconspicuously dangerous for the movement and queer folx. Rainbow Capitalism allows for corporations to shift the focus of the LGBTQ liberation movement from protest, activism, and material change, to purchasing a product from a company that probably does not even donate to LGBTQ organizations. This allows for consumers to falsely convince themselves that they are contributing, to label themselves an ally, when in reality, they are allowing anti-LGBTQ violence to continue and even worsen.

It’s easier to pick up a cheaply constructed rainbow flag for free at Winners, rather than educating yourself about discrimination from police officers to POC and standing up with Black Lives Matter in their activism efforts. It is easier to outwardly show our support for the LGBTQ+ community by changing your Facebook profile banner during Pride month, or by buying a shirt with a rainbow heart on it, rather than addressing the deeper issues and inequalities that we individually perpetuate, and educating yourself on the issues that the queer community, particularly queer POC face. 

Emilie Maine | Maine Ethics

Additionally, Rainbow Capitalism contributes to one of the causes of queer oppression: capitalism itself. The profit-centered focus of capitalism has allowed the “queerification” of certain groups deemed as unproductive. Using the current popularized meaning of “queer,” homosexual folx have been viewed as unproductive because they cannot reproduce or “contribute” to future generations. (This idea, however, is false, but the unproductivity of LGBTQ folx remains a popular justification for anti-LGBTQ beliefs.)


In a similar but more harmful manner, homonationalism involves methods in which the government can “profit” off of LGBTQ liberation to achieve its national agenda. A few primary examples come from the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump justified the Muslim ban by arguing that immigration restrictions were beneficial for LGBT rights, while Hillary Clinton justified continuing the war on terror by arguing that intervention in the Middle East was necessary to stop LGBTQ violence. While certainly violence against LGBTQ folx is unacceptable, equally unacceptable is the exploitation of the LGBTQ movement for racist and xenophobic policies.

Not to mention, Trump’s promises to advance LGBTQ rights are quite ironic. He and his administration have

  • banned transgender folx from the military
  • legalized firing workers for being trans or gay
  • argued to the Supreme Court that shopkeepers can deny services to LGBT folx if it contradicts with their religion
  • use “biological sex” to determine where transgender inmates are housed
  • and more

Keeping his hypocritical actions in mind, Trump’s justification for the Muslim ban is less about advancing LGBTQ rights, but more about masking the cruelty and blatant xenophobia of the ban.

Does this mean we should stop celebrating pride? By all means, no. Let us celebrate pride month, whether you identify as queer, or are an ally. But, next time you purchase a rainbow sticker to celebrate pride, ask yourself, how will my actions translate to actual change and progress for queer folx? Next time politicians claim to advance LGBTQ rights, ask yourself, who else is being marginalized under their policies?

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