The months running up to Pride have seen right-wing shitheads whipping themselves into a frenzy regarding rainbow branding – particularly in the US. In turn, shops such as Target have begun to quietly drop their Pride merchandise.
My problem here isn’t the potential of seeing less queer branding in shops, per se. They’re a cash grab, and always were. This is called ‘rainbow capitalism‘:
Rainbow capitalism, aka pink capitalism, is the action of companies claiming to support LGBTQ+ causes and communities, but are actually making merchandise for-profit and capitalize on the trend. In other words, it centers on corporate interests and profit.
The rise of rainbow capitalism was never a sign that companies themselves support queer people. Companies support anything that makes them money. For a while, slapping the Pride colours on t-shirts, vodka bottles, and dog leashes was an easy way to do that.
Now, as homophobia, transphobia, and all the rest are once again on the rise, we’ll see more and more companies quietly shrink their Pride displays and merch lines. This, in itself, I don’t give a shit about. But it is a fucking terrifying sign of the times.
Back in April, Dylan Mulvaney – a trans actress and influencer – posted a video to her Instagram. In the video, Mulvaney revealed that brewing company Anheuser-Busch InBev sent her a personalized Bud Light can with her face on it to celebrate the anniversary of her gender transition.
Though Mulvaney has some 10 million followers on social media app TikTok, she isn’t exactly a household name. However, the gift was enough for some conservatives to declare Bud Light a ‘trans beer’. They even called for a boycott against the company – and other brands that Mulvaney has worked with – for going ‘woke’.
But that obviously wasn’t enough. Trump-loving musician Kid Rock filmed himself shooting cans of Bud Light with an assault rifle. A man went on a rampage in a Kansas Walmart store, hurling cans of Bud Light and Busch Light across the floor. Anheuser-Busch factories reported bomb threats being made against them.
In response, the company CEO issued a lukewarm statement that:
We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people.
LGBTQ+ campaigners pointed out that the company was trying to weasel its way out by distancing itself from Mulvaney.
More recently, on 23 May, big-box retailer Target said that it had removed products to commemorate Pride month. It cited threats to employees in the wake of criticism by social conservatives. The giant US chain has showcased rainbow-colored items celebrating Pride for more than a decade.
Conservative activists have filmed themselves at stores expressing outrage at “tuck friendly” swimsuits designed for trans customers. In a now-familiar pattern, they also destroyed displays and sent bomb threats to stores.
Target said in a statement:
Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work.
Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.
Our focus now is on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year.
Except, they’re doing the opposite of ‘continuing commitment’, aren’t they? Right-wing tools threw their dummy out the pram, got violent, and were promptly given exactly what they wanted.
Not the only ones
Bud Light and Target are by no means alone, either. Pink News put together a list of over 40 brands that are being targeted for their perceived support of Pride and LGBTQ+ people. These include Hershey’s, Disney, and even Tesco.
Daniel Korschun, associate professor of marketing at Drexel University, stated that executives:
are becoming much more skittish about taking these stands and making strong statements…The pendulum is swinging a bit back… toward a more conservative approach, where they’ll be less vocal.
Professor Sophie Bjork-James of the US-based Vanderbilt University, who works on white nationalism, pointed out that this reticence from companies was exactly what the right is after. She said in an interview:
I think this will embolden alt-right actors, who now are going to believe that with social media campaigns and targeted actions against retailers that they can proceed in limiting visibility of LGBTQ people.
Remember your Pride
I didn’t like it when more and more shops started slapping the Pride flag on their stuff. But now, removing the rainbow because it might hurt a brand’s image or some shit is only going to add insult to injury.
I’ve got two points that I want to leave off on here. Select whichever seems most appropriate.
If you consider yourself an ally, over the coming month while you’re out shopping, pay attention to the Pride merch you see around you. I don’t care if you don’t buy it: I wouldn’t. But ask – are the shops going as hard as they did in previous years? Take note of those that’ve put their rainbow shite to the back aisles like a shameful little secret.
And, for my fellow queers, it is – as ever – a great time to remember that Pride is a protest. The most important item of Pride merchandise is, and will always be, a brick. They’re very cheap. You can paint it yourself if you really want to.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Missvain, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, resized to 1910×1000.