On Rainbow Capitalism
Corporate LGBTQ+ initiatives are usually hollow, but that's no reason for cynicism.
Now that Pride Month has rolled around, much of the discourse in the LGBTQ+ community revolves around how “Rainbow Capitalism” leads to corporations pandering to our community — in my case to transgender lesbians. The fact that is pandering, however, does not mean it is a net bad. Keeping corporations out of Pride celebrations and other events is a noble goal, but even the most ardent anti-capitalist LGBTQ+ person should be happy corporations support us now.
The way corporations react to social issues serves as sort of a prediction market. Even if you interpret their actions with utmost cynicism, the reason they are doing it is still relevant — even if not directly. Yes, it is about profits. But it is built on the recognition that society is more likely to reward than penalize a company for expressed LGBTQ+ support.
It’s no surprise that companies with strong anti-LGBTQ+ stances are often not publicly traded — the notorious Chick-Fil-A with its recent backing of another wave of queerphobic legislation is still a privately held company. Even still, the company has worked increasingly hard to hide its donations. They are aware of the public backlash it creates, but the ideology of its founding family overrides good business sense.
We should still criticize the hollowness of companies that do make a public show of LGBTQ+ support — my former employer a company with a perfect 100 from the HRC horrifically mistreated me as a trans employee pursuing surgery. It’s easy to check a box but much harder to be a meaningful ally as an organization, and few will commit to the latter.
However, we should always remember why that profit motive to pander to us exists in the first place. Even a decade ago, so much of this would be unthinkable — especially strong support for trans people. We should not reward corporations for doing the bare minimum, but we should find relief in the fact that they feel obligated to do so now.
There are limits to what we should tolerate. Those on the left often rightly criticize capitalism for sanitizing images of revolutionary figures like Martin Luther King to be more palatable to the status quo. This takes something incredibly valuable away from society rather than merely reflecting positive social trends.
We should also constantly push for more. Too often companies like Disney make a big show of LGBTQ+ representation only for it to be minor and set up in a way that can be easily excised for less tolerant international audiences. In my case, I am going to fight for companies to stand by their commitments to trans employees — as I was not at my former employer.
Rainbow Capitalism is never an excuse to rest on our laurels or tolerate actual harm to the community. But when you see a rainbow flag at Target or a company’s logo changed, remember why they are doing it — yes, profit, but that profit potential exists only because we are winning.
We live in a time when there is a swell of anti-trans legislation nationwide in the United States, but the perception of trans people is higher than ever. It is easy to feel hopeless, but the signs around us point to how things are changing for the better, even if there is still such a long way to go. Though Rainbow Capitalism will never liberate, it still remains a reason to celebrate. And without that hope it brings, we will fail to find the fight to ever attain actual liberation.