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‘Rainbow washing’ essentially means the act of adding pride colours in campaigns and advertising by companies to indicate support to LGBTQIA+ communities, but with minimum actual effort or result. So, let’s take a look at all that’s wrong with marketing the rainbow!

What is rainbow washing?

Throughout June, you would have noticed how brands and social media handles around the world either brought out pride month offers or changed their social media handles to reflect the pride flag colours. Rainbow washing essentially means the act of adding pride colours in campaigns and advertising by companies to indicate support to LGBTQIA+ communities, but with minimum actual effort or result.

Why is rainbow washing problematic?

During pride month every year, companies and organisations transform into these colourful hubs, with a rainbow on their logo and social media. Their ads will highlight “pride” merch, without actually working for the community. Because all they have been doing is making money by marketing the rainbow. This essentially means commodification and monetisation of the pride flag and the queer identity. 

As a result of this practice, pride month has become more about brand deals, sponsorships, than amplifying queer voices and raising awareness about LGBTQIA+ issues. Rainbow washing waters down the queer community’s long history of resilience against oppression.

Also read: Marketing The Rainbow: Queer Advertising Campaigns In India

The capitalist appropriation of queer identity

There is a bigger need to hold the brands accountable for marketing the rainbow. Because what this marketing creates is dangerous ‘rainbow capitalism’. It is basically the appropriation of the LGBTQIA+ movement by capitalism in the economy. Well-intentioned people are tricked into thinking that they’re supporting the queer community when in reality they’re filling the pockets of multi-billion dollar corporations.

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Why does rainbow washing matter?

According to FORBES, in 2019, LGBTQIA+ people held a combined buying power of $3.7 trillion dollars. Another report by BBC said that 90% of queer individuals support businesses that tend to focus on queer advertising and marketing. This means that capitalising on queer identity then becomes the focus of most brands.

Also read: The Problem With the ‘Rainbow-Washing’ of LGBTQ+ Pride

Caste, capitalism and queer identity

Capitalism is an oppressive structure and only favours those privileged. In the Indian context, this means the power is concentrated with the upper-caste community. Thus there is a need to understand queer identity not only in the ambit of capitalism but also caste and class. There has been a visible absence of inclusivity of caste in queer spaces. Caste and capitalism combine to perpetuate an oppressive force on queer individuals. 

Also read: Have You Been Tricked by Rainbow Washing?

What needs to be done?

While it is true that there is a very strong symbolic power in having adequate representation of marginalised LGBTQIA+ identities highlighted, that alone is not enough. Because its significance is a short-lived one. Unless these companies and organisations make a real commitment to introduce affirmative policies for LGBTQIA+ people and ensure equality, marketing the rainbow will remain a performative act during a particular period.


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