Updated: Jul 8, 2020
Retail businesses have been piggybacking off of American holidays for the longest time and Pride, the four-week-long celebration of the LGBTQ+ community in the month of June is no different. If you drive through any downtown, you will see lines of rainbow-colored flags posted on store windows displaying new pride collections. And this isn’t limited to only clothing brands like Adidas or Levis. Brands like Skittles and Johnson & Johnson have also released new products with rainbow color themes.
Now from the surface level, this seems supportive; businesses are actively supporting the LGBTQ+ community. However, are these businesses actually allies, or is this just a marketing strategy by corporate to ramp up sales? “What some marketers call the "pink dollar [the collective spending during Pride month]" is worth an estimated $917 billion annually to businesses” (CBS). “Major corporations have turned LGBTQ+ struggles into marketing moments to make themselves look good,” said Bill Dobbs, a longtime New York gay activist. “The modern movement for gay rights was jump-started by the Stonewall riots, and it’s still a battle for the lives of LGBT people — not about selling trinkets and clothes with rainbow colors. They’re a distraction.”
Let’s take Adidas for example, which is one of the largest sportswear manufacturers in the world and has a pride collection of shoes, shirts, and legwear. On their website, they even have a quote by famous TPOC ─Trans People of Color─ and activist Kai-Isaiah Jamal, but does any of it mean anything if Adidas still manufactures its products from China, a country with nonexistent discrimination protection against the LGBTQ+ community. Back in 2018 when Russia hosted the FIFA World Cup, many argued that if Adidas was such a strong proponent of LGBTQ+ rights as demonstrated by their merchandise sales during PRIDE month, why are they one of the major sponsors for a tournament in a country with anti-LGBTQ+ laws? This consistent hypocrisy isn’t unique to Adidas as most retail businesses will continue to outsource goods from anti-LGBTQ+ countries to dramatically lower manufacturing costs. Now, most will say, but at least these large companies are supporting gay artists and creators or donating to charities for the community. That is true, however, should corporations be allowed to capitalize on the struggles of the LGBTQ+ people who fought for equal rights during the Stonewall protests of 1969 in New York City?
The Super Bowl is notorious for its heterosexual agenda: commercials that actively sexualize women and celebrate toxic masculinity. It is then shocking to know that corporations like Budweiser and Doritos, companies that thrive on the masculine nature of the Super Bowl, are supporting Pride festivals in June. In 2012, Budweiser was a major sponsor of several Pride festivals including Chicago’s Pride Festival where they hosted the Bud Light’s Bud Boyz model contest; in 2015, Doritos partnered with the It Gets Better Project to introduce “Doritos Rainbows.” Those who donate more than $10 to the organization will receive the exclusive bag of rainbow chips. This is proof that most companies might have good intentions but they are still only interested in increasing their profits by any marketable measures.
However, not every large corporation intends on exploiting consumer sentiment. “As the nation as a whole slowly comes to accept same-sex relationships, some companies are coming out of the closet as well, making their views on embracing same-sex couples increasingly prominent. JCPenney recently featured two gay dads in a Fathers' Day advertisement. One new GAP ad features two men inside a t-shirt together. Starbucks recently inspired a boycott from the National Organization for Marriage, an anti-gay-marriage group, when it supported legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington.” (US News) By destigmatizing LGBTQ+ media influence, JCPenney, Starbucks, and Gap are attempting to normalize gay representation. The community has also had some recent policy successes: in 2015, The Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states, and in 2020, The Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ+ employees from discrimination.
It is the consumer’s responsibility to scrutinize companies that forgo their morals for revenue and to talk about what these companies are doing with the money they earn: what percentage is given to LGBTQ+ charities, is any money being given to pro-LGBTQ+ policy makers, is this money being reinvested into the company for more LGBTQ+ commercials? By demanding change from these businesses, we can help change the way companies like Adidas choose to “support” the LGBTQ+ community. The commercialization of pride products- rainbow T-shirts, shoes, fanny packs, hoodies, socks, pants and more- is most likely going to continue but we as consumers can still band together to bring awareness to this corporate manipulation and demand companies to look past profit and bring about social change.
- Deeya Jain