Pride month, pride merch: How to go beyond rainbow capitalism

Ralph Revelar Sarza

Posted at Jun 01 2023 04:51 PM | Updated as of Jun 14 2023 03:03 AM

Pedestrians cross a section with the colors of the rainbow in Quezon City on June 25, 2018. The pedestrian lanes were colored in support of the LGBT community for Pride Month. File/Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Pedestrians cross a section with the colors of the rainbow in Quezon City on June 25, 2018. The pedestrian lanes were colored in support of the LGBT community for Pride Month. File/Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

As we embark on the vibrant and empowering month of Pride, it is crucial to delve into the multifaceted phenomenon known as pink capitalism that lurks beneath the surface of this inclusive movement.

“Pink capitalism” (also called “rainbow capitalism”) encompasses the commodification and commercialization of LGBTQ+ identities and struggles, raising profound implications that demand critical analysis. 

Within the recognition of a significant market for LGBTQ+-specific products and services lies the genesis of pink capitalism. While the increasing visibility and acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals in mainstream culture signify progress, the commodification of their experiences for capitalist gain raises valid concerns.

Pride-themed merchandise and the commercialization of Pride events serve as prime examples of pink capitalism, necessitating a closer examination of corporate involvement and its impact on the community's ongoing struggle for liberation.

Pride merchandise has emerged as a powerful manifestation of pink capitalism, encompassing a wide range of products adorned with rainbow colors and symbols of pride. From clothing to accessories and flags, businesses ranging from local vendors to multinational corporations eagerly capitalize on the opportunity to showcase their support for LGBTQ+ rights. However, beneath this commercial enterprise lie questions about the authenticity and underlying motivations of corporate involvement in the LGBTQ+ movement.

A key concern surrounding pink capitalism is the concept of “rainbow washing,” where companies adopt Pride-themed merchandise and marketing campaigns as superficial and performative gestures. Such actions often lack a genuine commitment to addressing the systemic issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community or providing sustained support beyond the month of June.

Critics argue that this exploitation for profit leads to shallow engagement that fails to bring about meaningful change or long-term impact. Fake allyship, within the context of pink capitalism, operates as a sophisticated strategy for corporations to appear supportive of the LGBTQ+ community while primarily prioritizing profit. This form of allyship often manifests in performative gestures and superficial engagement that fails to address the systemic issues faced by the community.

The recent targeted attacks on Target Pride highlight the challenges faced by corporations aligning themselves with LGBTQ+ causes. These incidents not only expose the persistent existence of homophobia within society but also underscore the risks associated with brands associating themselves with the LGBTQ+ community. The Target Pride controversy emphasizes the need for corporations to take a proactive approach in addressing homophobia and offering genuine support to the communities they claim to stand with.

While scrutinizing the motives and ethics of companies engaged in pink capitalism is crucial, individual consumers also play a pivotal role in promoting ethical consumerism. Making informed choices that align with personal values involves supporting LGBTQ+-owned businesses, prioritizing companies that demonstrate genuine and sustained support for the LGBTQ+ community, and holding corporations accountable beyond Pride Month. By actively engaging in ethical consumerism, individuals contribute to dismantling the exploitative tendencies of pink capitalism.

To transcend the limitations and criticisms of pink capitalism, a shift in focus is necessary — toward genuine and sustained support for LGBTQ+ communities. This shift involves centering community voices and needs, addressing systemic issues, fostering meaningful partnerships with LGBTQ+ organizations, and prioritizing long-term change over short-lived profit-driven gestures. By doing so, the LGBTQ+ movement can transcend the boundaries imposed by capitalism, cultivating an inclusive and authentic Pride movement.

As Pride Month unfolds, a moment of contemplation awaits us — a chance to reflect on the complexities of pink capitalism. Beyond the vibrant surface lies a phenomenon that requires our careful examination: the commodification and commercialization of LGBTQ+ identities and struggles, posing thought-provoking questions that deserve our attention.

Amidst these challenges, we must ask ourselves: Can we transcend the limitations of pink capitalism and restore the authenticity that underpins the Pride movement? It is essential to critically analyze the notion of “rainbow washing” — superficial gestures by companies that lack genuine commitment. By redirecting our focus toward meaningful support, collaboration, and sustained advocacy, we can pave the way for lasting change. Let us rise above the exploitative tendencies of capitalism and foster an inclusive Pride movement that embodies authenticity and progress.

For more stories celebrating Pride, visit the Express Your Pride microsite.

Ralph Revelar Sarza is a metadata development specialist at The Big Dipper Digital Content and Design, Inc., an ABS-CBN company. He is also a volunteer at Open Table MCC, an LGBTQ+-affirming Church in Metro Manila.