Rainbow washing, as defined by Urban Dictionary, is: “The act of using or adding rainbow colors and/or imagery to advertise, apparel, accessories, landmarks in order to indicate progressive support for LGBTQIA+ equality (and earn consumer credibility) but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result.” In layman’s terms, rainbow washing is when a business or other for-profit organisation uses the rainbow pride colors to suggest to consumers that they support the LGBTQIA+ community, without having to put in actual effort or produce a tangible outcome for the people.
Basically, it’s a type of performative activism, or supporting a cause or issue to garner attention, support, or monetization from others rather than actually caring about making a difference in the cause.
As brands slap rainbows on their social media accounts for June, they release limited-edition Pride merch with little or no information about whether any portion of profits are going toward organisations that benefit the community.
Using LGBTQIA+ employees as props in pride-related marketing materials, so that the companies can look more inclusive, whereas in reality very little is done at the workplace to sensitise the other staff members about the same. Even for the sake of ‘authenticity’ and social media reach, if the companies want to hire queer creators for pride projects, most times the artists are underpayed or not paid at all.
While public support of the LGBTQ+ community by organisations and companies is important to push visibility and create change by social pressure, it must be used in genuine ways that go beyond marketing campaigns and public relations stunts. It is not ok to just “fake it” to save oneself from criticism for abstention or to make profit off of a celebration or a minority group.
Pride campaigns are inappropriate, when they are not followed by financial support to the LGBTQIA+ community and activist organisations, especially when the profits from any merchandise sold in the name of pride are gulped altogether by the companies. Sometimes, these are the same companies that discriminate against LGBTQIA+ people in their recruitment processes; and are also fund providers to transphobic, homophobic and queerphobic organisations and political parties.
In their true effort to make pride more about the LGBTQIA+ folks and not about themselves, companies should learn not to profit out of any marginalized groups, whether it is a sexual or gender minority or a dalit identity. There are, however, some companies taking the right calls and making themselves truly an inclusive world. The Bhima Jewellery ad, for example, that features a transitioning woman’s story had a real life trans person in their ad (played by Meera Singhania Rehani) and was well received for its right gaze and sensitive handling.
So, in conclusion, as an organization, if you do want to not rainbow wash and be genuinely inclusive, relook at your policies, hiring and otherwise, offer paid opportunities for queer and marginalised folks, and have regular sensitization sessions. You can also try and get your queer merchandise for pride month from queer entrepreneurs and make efforts to support the local NGOs that work on behalf of the LGBTQIA+ community as a part of your diversity and inclusion programs. One thing to remember would be that queer folks are queer all year round, not just in June. So, be inclusive in all space and year around, not just during the pride month.