Pinkwashing: Who Profits From Pride?
Have you heard of pinkwashing? The term emerged in people’s vocabularies after academics like Judith Butler and Jasbir K Puar used it. Originally meant to call out companies claiming to support breast cancer while actually profiting from them, Wikipedia now describes pinkwashing as “a variety of marketing and political strategies aimed at promoting products, countries, people or entities through an appeal to queer-friendliness, in order to be perceived as progressive, modern and tolerant.”
In short: intentions matter, not just the statement. People need to trust in your reasons when you take a stand for LGBT rights. When they don’t, they call pinkwashing. And world leaders are being called out for it across the globe.
In the past few years, the Israeli government has been accused of running a pinkwashing campaign. This column in The Guardian argues that Israel branding itself as gay-friendly acts as a smokescreen for human rights violations committed by the state in its conflict with Palestine, as well as making Israel seem like the more righteous party – because who wouldn’t want to side with the gay-friendly side? The piece includes a quote by “Stand With US”, a self-declared Zionist organization, saying “We decided to improve Israel’s image through the gay community in Israel.” The debate has two sides though. Others say that those accusing Israel of pinkwashing do it because of anti-Israel agendas, not out of true interest in the LGBTQ community. If our rights really are being protected, can you really call it pinkwashing?
In Europe, far-right movements have begun catering to LGBT voters – by pitting them against Muslims and immigrants. And it’s working. Earlier this year, AP News reported that polls have shown that the National Front in France, a “party that would abolish same-sex marriage – one whose founder wanted AIDS patients rounded up”, is now more popular with French LGBT voters than with its straight ones. That’s right, more popular.
The US isn’t immune to the phenomenon either. Most of you are probably familiar with the less-than-subtle attempts at pinkwashing by current president, Mr Trump. When in July last year, he claimed he’d “do everything in [his] power to protect LGBTQ citizens”, he famously received the public endorsement of Caitlyn Jenner. As you know, he proceeded to make the lives of trans Americans a living hell. Caitlyn has since come out calling Trump’s decision “a disaster” – but the votes – as you also are well aware of – are counted. Could pinkwashing of Trump’s campaign have been a contributing factor to his win?
An interesting article about the Trump administration’s apparent step (or steps) backward with American international LGBT policies notes that even Obama has been accused of highlighting his progressive LGBT views in order to mask the “darker” sides of his politics, and the article even asks whether the world would be better off without America’s insistent but perhaps mistrusted LGBT poking sticks.
Private companies are no better. This Daily Beast article lists a whole slew of ad campaigns designed to make everything from airlines to vodka brands look gay-friendly. But, as the article points out, actions speak louder than words. Burger King may have released a “Proud Whopper”, but its score on the Human Right’s Campaign’s 2015 Corporate Equality Index was only 55 of a 100.
The very birth of the Gay Rights Movement took place at Stonewall Inn in New York – there, the police’s incessant harassment of the LGBTQ community set them off . It was us against thousands of officers, and it is what we did then that gave rise to the Gay Rights Movement. Pride is about remembering those actions.
It’s not strange that we as a community should be happy for the progress we’ve made since then. When companies, organizations – even the police themselves – want to join us in celebrating Pride, it’s only natural it should make us happy. But it’s time to ask: just how happy should we be?
LGBT Americans are targeted for violent hate crimes more than any other group.
4 in 10 LGBT youth live in communities that don’t accept LGBT people.
Clearly, we have work to do.
So what makes a company or organization part of our fight? How can we trust that it helps make the world a better place for the LGBTQ community across the country and the world?
Every year, companies spend billions for ad space. The Pride Parade gives them access to very specific groups, potentially earning them enormous sums of money. We see it as them supporting us. In reality, it’s the other way around.
Shouldn’t we be asking for something in return?
Companies and institutions are standing in line to be part of Pride. Let’s make them work for it. Instead of giving away for free the possibility of appearing gay friendly we should be:
- Taking the chance to demand that companies and organizations do better, whether that means donating proceeds to our community or advertising with gay ads in middle America, not just in NYC).
- Inform each other within the community. Seeing a company’s logo in the parade should act as a signal: this company is an ally. Because let’s face it: that’s already how we perceive it.
Pride should be a celebration. We deserve it. But let’s also make it a conversation. On Sunday when you go out into the parade, think about what you really know about NYC Pride. Who are the organizers? What demands or guidelines do they have? And what do you know about the companies you see present? More than what they claim to stand for, what do they do?
A rainbow colored latte sold in select stores doesn’t save anyone. Implementing a nationwide trans inclusive bathroom policy for your company could. I want to be able to choose to give my money to companies that make the world better – not just the ones with the biggest floats in the parade.
Let’s have a vetting process. Let’s give LGBTQ ratings. Let’s talk about what companies and organizations do, and make demands when it’s not good enough. Let’s say no. And then, let’s say yes.
Beggars can’t be choosers. But it’s 2017. Let’s just not be beggars anymore.
Graphic by Erik Galli.
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