The Commodification Of Pride Month Needs To Stop
Every department store seems to produce their own collection of LGBTQ Pride merchandise nowadays, and particularly now that we’ve entered Pride Month. Enter your local strip mall and you’re immediately struck by the overload of rainbow gear surrounding you. There are sneakers adorned with colorful Pollock-like splats, shirts with brand logos overlaid with the gay flag, even cookies stuffed with rainbow-colored cream to let passersby know you support equality as you snack.
Celebrating queerness has never been cooler. Clothing companies, like Levi’s, are commemorating figureheads of the gay rights movement, like Harvey Milk, with their latest Pride-friendly, ROYGBIV-heavy designs. Retailer American Apparel is even poking fun at current political tornado Donald Trump by spinning his “Make America Great Again” campaign motto into “Make America Gay Again,” and slapping it on shirts for their 2016 Pride collection. Yet despite the punching humor, some of this commodification of LGBTQ Pride remains just that. It’s a touchy issue for many social activists, and one that goes beyond all the childish galore of rainbow clothing.
Although rocking rainbow leggings on the subway may be a reminder of the injustices queer individuals must endure daily, it’s not necessarily benefiting the LGBTQ community, unless of course the clothing company is making a charitable donation with the items’ proceeds to an advocacy group. Visibility is undeniably important in the promotion of marginalized groups, but without a contribution policy set in place, these companies are doing little more than using queerness and rainbows to benefit their own image.
Pride month: when brands remember that queer people exist/buy stuff
— shannon keating (@__keating) June 2, 2016
The Pride Parade—and Gay Pride in general—was initially created to galvanize the community into protest, not to make a profit. Yet from the marketing choices some brands have made, you’d think otherwise. Revered Italian luxury brand Gucci, for instance, just released a pair of rainbow creepers for their Resort ’17 collection; yet despite the shoes being deemed a pride item, Gucci has failed to market them with any sort of charitable donation policy.
But, friends: don’t lose faith in big corporations or humanity just yet: there are brands out there that aren’t simply exploiting the queer community and notions of equality for their own self-gain during Pride Month.
Created in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign and The Ally Coalition, this year’s American Apparel line is not, like some others out there, in vain. In fact, it supports the fight for LGBTQ equality across the country, with 30 percent of sales going to benefit the Equality Act, a bill that would protect sexual orientation and gender identity under federal civil rights laws. The company turned their slogans into a full-on social media campaign, #MakeAmericaGayAgain, and has created videos featuring celebs like Glee alum Alex Newell, explaining why living loud and proud is the crux to destroying the stigma associated with the LGBTQ community.
Likewise, by incorporating Harvey Milk into its products, Levi’s is, in turn, amply informing those outside of the LGBTQ community about this brave, political warrior who was assassinated in 1978 for coming out as gay while in public office. You can spot prized Milk quotes like, “Hope will never be silent,” placed on many of the items, which, thankfully, are all made to be gender-neutral and inclusive. And, as you probably could’ve guessed, the items’ proceeds benefit the Harvey Milk Foundation.
Even though the LGBTQ community has made unprecedented strides toward equality in recent years—the overturn of DOMA and the repeal of Prop 8 are considered landmark cases for queer equality—many repressive laws, like North Carolina’s HB2, continue to be passed by government officials, limiting the freedoms of queers indefinitely.
When celebrating Pride Month this June, look into the brands you are actively investing in, and verify that their business model readily aligns itself with the issues you care about. If their pride gear simply decks itself with rainbows and unicorns, and doesn’t have a formative donation policy, take your business elsewhere. There’s no hope in gaining equality otherwise.
Images via Levi’s and American Apparel.
Stay tuned to Milk for more on queer commodification.