Have you seen all the rainbow logos inundating your social media feed since pride month kicked off on June 1st? Ever since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015 (Obergefell v. Hodges) it has become commonplace for companies and organizations to display their support for LGBTQ+ rights during pride month, but is their support genuine? Sometimes yes…sometimes no. This blog post will introduce the idea of “rainbow washing” and discuss ways your organization can support the LGBTQ+ community without falling prey to the disingenuous marketing ploy of optical allyship.
What is “Rainbow Washing?”
Rainbow washing, as defined by the ever-so-scholarly Urban Dictionary reads, “The act of using or adding rainbow colors and/or imagery to advertising, apparel, accessories, landmarks… in order to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ equality (and earn consumer credibility)—but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result.”
In other words, rainbow washing is when a company splashes rainbows, glitter, and LGBTQ+ imagery all over their social media and marketing without substantiating that support with meaningful advocacy or allyship. Companies rainbow wash their marketing to capitalize on the societal sea change toward LGBTQ+ rights. Sometimes this manifests in direct efforts to increase product sales, and other times it’s just a hollow attempt to improve their public perception as an “ally.” Hence the term “optical allyship.”
“Why is this wrong? Companies pander to different market demographics all the time!” Well, what makes rainbow washing unethical is the fact that so many companies who boast their allyship take actions that directly harm the LGBTQ+ community.
Example of rainbow washing: Company X donates $100,000 to The Trevor Project on June 1st as a sign of support for the LGBTQ+ community. The same company, however, also donates over $2 Million dollars throughout the year to transphobic politicians who actively oppose LGBTQ+ rights.
Here are some real examples of rainbow washing.
But where does that leave businesses and organizations who genuinely support LGBTQ+ rights and want to voice that support during pride month? Let’s explore.
How to Avoid Rainbow Washing Your Brand
- Avoid optical allyship. The best way to avoid rainbow washing is to be consistent in your advocacy. Are you equally supportive of LGBTQ+ rights during the other 11 months of the year? Or does this “support” only emerge in June? Make sure your company embodies its values, not just brags about having them.
- Elevate the voices of LGBTQ+ leaders. Never speak for a community that you’re not a part of. Show your support for marginalized communities by amplifying their messages.
- Embrace diversity in your workplace. Create a professional environment that reflects your values of diversity and allyship. This goes beyond an annual DE&I seminar. Make sure your healthcare plans, parental leave language, office policies, and work culture embrace all your employees.
- Donate. While donations alone don’t automatically make you an outstanding ally, they certainly have value. Consider researching local or national LGBTQ+ advocacy groups and setting up a recurring donation.
- Speak out against injustice when you see it. Many businesses are scared to “get political” and remain silent when LGBTQ+ folks need them most. Be bold, live your values, and lead by example. Ben & Jerry’s (yes, the ice cream company) does a phenomenal job of this.
If rainbow washing is a new concept for you, I hope you found this blog helpful. I didn’t write this post to deter you from showing your support for the LGBTQ+ community, but rather to help ensure your support is genuine and impactful. If you have questions on how to thoughtfully show your support for LGBTQ+ folks this month, we’re happy to chat. HAPPY PRIDE!
PSM Marketing is an LGBTQ-owned marketing company located in St. Paul, Minnesota. We serve law firms, contractors, non-profits, recruiting firms, renewable energy companies, and small businesses across the United States.